‘Rapidly Worsening Epidemic’: Flesh-Eating Disease Strikes Australia, Scientists Don’t Have Answers

Photo: Public Domain Images/Dawn Hudson

(Washington Post) The spread of a flesh-eating ulcer in parts of Australia is being described as a “rapidly worsening epidemic” and, to make matters worse, researchers say they don’t know exactly where it comes from or how it is transmitted.

Known as Buruli ulcer, the infectious disease initially appears as a small, red lump that closely resembles a pimple or insect bite, Daniel O’Brien, deputy director of the department of infectious diseases at Barwon Health in Victoria, told The Washington Post. If left untreated the lump can gradually enlarge and within weeks cause “severe destructive lesions of skin and soft tissue,” he said. Anyone is susceptible to the disease, which usually infects a person’s arms or legs, he said.

Compared with other types of flesh-eating bacteria, such as necrotizing fasciitis, Buruli ulcer is not the “most aggressive,” O’Brien said, but the disease can sometimes “eat away one limb or a large part of a limb.” The ulcer can even affect bones, leading to permanent disfigurement and long-term disability, according to the World Health Organization. Severe cases often require extensive reconstructive surgery and lengthy recovery.

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