Flesh-Eating Ulcer You Won’t Notice For Months Is Spreading Across Australia

Flesh-Eating Ulcer You Won’t Notice For Months Is Spreading Across Australia
Image: iStock

State health authorities have issued an alert about a mysterious flesh-eating ulcer on the loose in parts of Victoria and Queensland after it spread to new regions.

The offender, the Buruli ulcer, has been reported in Geelong and a coastal town along the Great Ocean Road. This has prompted Dr Brett Sutton, Victoria’s chief health officer, to issue an alert warning those passing through the regions to avoid being bitten by insects, protect cuts and abrasions, and to see a doctor if any suspicious symptoms occur after visiting the area.

“Endemic areas include the Bellarine and Mornington Peninsulas, but recent cases suggest that Aireys Inlet and the Geelong suburb of Belmont are newly identified areas of local transmission,” Dr Sutton said.

“There have been a small number of cases detected in these areas, but the risk of transmission remains low.”

The problem is, even if you are infected, symptoms can take months to present and often appear to be benign at first.

Buruli ulcer first begins as a small, painless bump on the skin that many mistake as an insect bite. After a few months, the bump turns into something gnarly, bursting the skin and oozing with pus. Victoria’s BetterHealth has provided a graphic image if you want to see just how bad things can get (click if you dare).

Treating it is a bit of a task, too. An eight-week course of antibiotics is usually required and if the ulcer has grown big enough, you’ll need surgery to remove the dead flesh around the ulcer and skin grafts might be necessary.

While terrifying, the 240 or so reported cases this year had been limited to select areas of Victoria and, on rarer occasions, parts of Far North Queensland. Last year, there had been around 299 cases at the same so thankfully, the figures are down from last year.

While it’s not yet known how the infection is transmitted, there’s growing evidence pointing the blame at mosquitoes. It’s not thought to be transmitted from person to person so smooching your affected partner shouldn’t pass the ulcer on.

If you have a suspicious bump that’s refusing to go away, is slowly getting bigger and you’ve been through the affected areas in the last few months, visit a doctor immediately.