Flesh-eating ulcer spreads further in northern Melbourne

A mysterious flesh-eating disease has spread to other parts of Melbourne, with several cases identified in Pascoe Vale South and Strathmore, in the city’s inner north.

Victoria’s deputy chief officer of communicable disease, associate professor Deborah Friedman, said the risk of acquiring Buruli ulcer in these suburbs was considered low, although they were now recognised as potential areas of risk.

Buruli ulcer has long been associated with coastal Victoria, but was first identified in inland Melbourne – in Essendon, Moonee Ponds and Brunswick – early last year.

Friedman said a genetic analysis of bacteria isolated from the new cases suggested a “common source of infection in the area” with the cases in 2021.

The potential source has not been established, although the bacteria were isolated from the faeces of a local possum, the Department of Health said.

In a health advisory to health professionals and residents of Pascoe Vale South and Strathmore, Friedman said there was increasing evidence that mosquitoes played a role in transmission, so reducing mosquito breeding sites and avoiding mosquito bites were important prevention measures.

“Early diagnosis is critical to prevent skin and tissue loss,” she said. A lesion can be mistaken for an insect bite, and over time can develop into a destructive skin ulcer which is known as Buruli or Bairnsdale ulcer.

People are being urged to cover their body while working outside, reduce areas where water can pool and wash and cover scratches received while working outside.

The highest risk areas for Buruli ulcer are Rye, Sorrento, Blairgowrie and Tootgarook on Mornington Peninsula.

Ocean Grove, Barwon Heads, Point Lonsdale, Queenscliff on Bellarine Peninsula, along with Frankston and Seaford, are considered moderate risk.

Victorian cases are reported throughout the year, but typically peak from June to November, the department said.

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