Flesh-eating ulcers on rise in Australia, study warns

Tuesday, 17 Apr, 2018

In November 2016 there were 156, which rose to 236 cases.

"Despite being recognised in Victoria since 1948, efforts to control the disease have been severely hampered because the environmental reservoir and mode of transmission to humans remain unknown". Most cases in Africa are associated with living near marshes and other aquatic environments.

In Australia's Victoria state, the number of cases jumped from under 50 in 2005 to nearly 250 previous year - with the number having risen significantly in 2016 and 2017.

The Australian doctors want help to understand why the number of infections is increasing and why infections are growing more severe.

Daniel O'Brien, an infectious disease expert at both Geelong Hospital's Barwon Health and the Royal Melbourne Hospital and author of the study, told the University of Melbourne there's a "huge scientific gap" that needs to be filled.

The study points to an alarming increase in new cases of the condition, also known locally as Bairnsdale ulcer, or Daintree ulcer.

The report includes graphic images of the ulcer eating away at the flesh of an 11-year-old boy from the Mornington Peninsula, the Victorian bayside region where confirmed infections are up 400 per cent in the last four years.

According to World Health Organization, treatment consists of a combination of antibiotics and complementary treatments.

"The way it creates the ulcers is that when it's inside your skin, it multiplies and it produces a toxin", Garchitorena said.

While the disease is curable with antibiotics in most cases, the drugs needed are expensive.

Monday's report reveals about 2000 cases are reported each year and that "most cases are reported from temperate".

Naturally, not knowing how a disease is born makes it hard to eradicate it. Different combinations of antibiotics are given to the patient to have it for 8 weeks. "Novel antibiotics or targeted antitoxin treatments are required as wound infection is a serious problem for thousands of patients with chronic wounds", he said past year.

The disease "causes severe destructive lesions of skin and soft tissue", the doctors write, causing painful large wounds, mostly on the arms and legs, that can spread all the way down into bone.

All age groups, including children, can be affected by the ulcer.

"Recent evidence indicates that human to human transmission does not occur, although cases are commonly clustered among families".

"One possibility is that the disease is passed to humans from some insects that are found in water", the CDC states, though that's just one theory.

However, the study notes that the risk of infection "appears to be seasonal, with an increased risk in the warmer months". Although it can be treated with powerful (side-effect prone) antibiotics, particularly damaging infections can require reparative plastic surgery.