Cases of infections from a flesh-eating bacteria seem to be increasing in Australia. The bacteria Mycobacterium ulcerans can bring about Buruli ulcers – non-healing sores that slowly grow bigger. The ulcers are already a huge health issue in West Africa, and now Australia seems to be experiencing more cases. Scientists aren’t quite sure how humans get infected – though they suspect either possums or mosquitoes are vectors.

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Victoria, Australia saw 89 reported cases of Buruli ulcers in 2014. In 2015, that number increased to 107, and in 2016 it was 182. Already, as of this month in 2017, there have been 159 reported cases, according to Allen Cheng, professor in infectious diseases epidemiology at Monash University, who wrote an article on the flesh-eating bacteria for The Conversation.

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32 countries in West Africa have seen cases of Buruli ulcers, which grow larger usually on arms or legs for weeks or months. Advanced infections sometimes result in amputation, and in the past people thought surgery was necessary to treat the ulcers. Now, most cases in Australia can be cured with antibiotics, and there’s a trial in Africa testing treatment with antibiotics.

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It’s not clear how people get infected, although Cheng said circumstantial evidence seems to point towards mosquitoes. The bacteria can be found in the insects, and infections often occur on exposed areas of the body where mosquitoes bite. But researchers also discovered possums, and their feces, seemed to be infected where there have been human cases. Cheng also pointed out that infections happen in areas of the world with different animal and mosquito species.

He said early diagnosis is key; the infection is easier to treat before it spreads, but does grow slowly. He recommended asking a doctor about unexplained sores or lumps, especially if they persist for a long time. And even though we can’t say for sure if mosquito bites do spread the bacteria, Cheng recommended mosquito repellents and covering up skin as a way to try and prevent infection.

Via The Conversation

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