Buruli ulcer is a serious and debilitating disease that has been reported in 33 countries in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Western Pacific. Most cases occur in tropical and subtropical regions except in Australia, China and Japan. However, this disease has been found in new parts of Victoria and experts are warning people to be vigilant during Australia's summer months.

To make sure everyone is across this chronic disease and how serious it is, we're going to take a look at what Buruli ulcer is, what the signs and symptoms are, what treatments are available, and how to prevent this disease from spreading.

Just remember that if you need support or someone to talk to, our Sonder support team is available 24/7 to chat whenever you need it.

What exactly is a Buruli ulcer?

Buruli ulcer is a chronic debilitating bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium ulcerans. Toxins are made by bacteria and can cause damage to the skin and bone. If left untreated, this can result in ulceration and serious skin and limb damage.

These bacteria are found in the natural environment, usually around swampy or stagnant water, and has been detected in mosquitoes, vegetation, and possum droppings. However, it's not properly known how Mycobacterium ulcerans transmits to humans and researchers are investigating the nature of how this bacteria spreads.

What is known is that Buruli ulcer is not known to be transmitted from person-to-person, however, it's important for people to stay vigilant, especially if they've been in close contact with someone with Buruli ulcer.

Signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of Buruli ulcer start off relatively inconspicuously before progressing:

  • A spot that looks like a mosquito or spider bite forms on the skin (most commonly on the limbs).

  • The spot grows bigger over days or weeks.

  • The spot may form a crusty, non-healing scab.

  • The scab then disintegrates into an ulcer.

  • The ulcer continues to enlarge.

  • Unlike other ulcers, this ulcer is usually painless and there is generally no fever or other signs of infection.

  • The infection may sometimes present with no ulceration but with localised pain, swelling and fever, raised lumps, or thickened or raised flat areas of skin.

Early diagnosis of this infection is critical and involves taking swabs from the ulcerated area and testing them for Mycobacterium ulcerans. If there are no ulcers, the skin can be biopsied. If you have a slow-healing skin lesion or ulcer, see a doctor immediately.

Treatment and prevention

Patients suffering from Buruli ulcer will typically be cared for by infectious diseases specialists with experience managing this condition. Treatment of Buruli ulcers generally requires a six to eight week course of oral antibiotics. Surgery may be required in combination with antibiotic therapy to promote healing.

While the risk of infection is low, it is still not clear whether there's a surefire way to prevent Buruli ulcer. However, health authorities are advising people in affected areas to exercise caution by:

  • Reduce mosquito breeding sites by reducing areas where water can pool (including pot plant containers, buckets, open tins or cans, discarded tyres, and other untreated, freshwater pools).

  • Mosquito-proof your home by securing insect screens on accommodation.

  • Avoid mosquito bites by:

    • Using insect repellents.

    • Covering up by wearing long, loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing.

    • Avoiding mosquito-prone areas and vector biting times, especially at dusk and dawn.

  • When gardening, working or spending time outdoors:

    • Wear gardening gloves, long-sleeved shirts and trousers.

    • Wear insect repellent on any exposed skin.

    • Protect cuts and abrasions with a dressing.

    • Promptly wash any new scratches or cuts you receive with soap and apply a topical antiseptic and dressing.

    • Exposed skin contaminated by soil or water should be washed following outdoor activities.

If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Information sourced from: Better Health, Health Direct, and World Health Organisation

Image credit: A H at Flickr

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

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