Researchers only have a hunch on how this “flesh-eating” bacteria Mycobacterium ulcerans is spreading to humans. They believe that it’s likely mosquitos due to rising cases near to water and time of year; usually during the warmer months.
Cases are occurring in many areas of the world, and scientists wonder if this bacteria might be heading to the U.S.
Aside from mosquitoes, several other routes of transmission are being looked at.
“There are theories about transmission via mosquitoes, theories about it being in the soil and getting through wounds, theories about whether some animals are involved in that we know that some possums can be affected by it,” infectious disease expert Daniel O’Brien, Royal Melbourne and Geelong hospitals in Victoria, Australia
In Victoria, Australia the cases of Buruli ulcer, also known as Bairnsdale ulcer are rising. In 2014 there were 89 cases, 107 in 2015, 182 in 2016, and 159 as of September 2017.
Some say it looks like an epidemic. But how do you fight something that you know so little about?
“But we don’t actually know where it lives, why it’s there and how it gets spread to humans. How can we possibility halt an epidemic when we don’t have that basic information?” Daniel O’Brien
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the Buruli ulcer typically attacks the arms and legs as swelling then it changes to an open wound. The ulcers are generally painless and will spread, reoccurrence is also a possibility. It’s usually a single spot, but there have been cases of multiple infections.
The Buruli ulcer is very close to Tuberculosis and Leprosy, and therefore a strong antibiotics regimens are the go-to treatment, surgery may also be needed.
Ella Croft, a 13-year-old girl, living in Australia, has had three major operations to clean out dead skin tissues. Her condition started with leg pain and soon turned into something worse.
“I started feeling pain in my knee in early April,” she writes. “Slowly it got worse, with my knee becoming swollen and inflamed, until one day the skin started breaking down.”
Aside from her three major surgeries, Croft has been treated with antibiotics.
“I have had a couple of smaller surgeries under local anesthetic since then. I’ve also had about three months of strong antibiotics, the sort that someone would use if they had tuberculosis.”
According to the World Health Organization, this flesh-eating disease is found near bodies of water, generally in sub-Saharan Africa, but also in subtropical and non-tropical areas like Australia and Japan.
There are currently no cases of the Buruli ulcer found originating in the U.S.