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20 Feb 2019

Search intensifies for answers to beat Buruli ulcer in Victoria

With more than 380 notified cases of Buruli ulcer in Victoria last year, researchers involved in the Beating Buruli in Victoria project are now intensifying their search for answers around the puzzling condition.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has reported a rapid increase in notifications of Buruli ulcer over the last few years, with most cases linked to the Mornington Peninsula.

Although it's understood that the infection is picked up from the environment – and there is growing evidence to say mosquitoes play an important role - it's not yet known exactly how humans become infected with the bacteria, or where in the environment the bacteria prefer to live. It is not thought to be spread person-to-person. 

DHHS is working in collaboration with a range of researchers from the Doherty Institute, Barwon Health, Austin Health, CSIRO, Agriculture Victoria, the University of Melbourne and Mornington Peninsula Shire, to understand how this infection is spread and to identify effective ways to intervene to reduce infections.

The experts have been working over the past few weeks in the Mornington Peninsula Shire collecting soil samples, faecal samples from possums, laying mosquito traps and conducting field surveys of residential properties.

University of Melbourne Professor Tim Stinear from the Doherty Institute explains that his research team have now begun the next phase of field work, to find where possums that carry the bacteria are located and how this is linked to human Buruli cases across the Mornington Peninsula.

“The information we gather from these field trips will help us pinpoint the disease hotspots and understand how it's being spread,” Professor Stinear said.

The research team are also on the hunt for local residents to take part in the case control study by filling out a questionnaire, looking at possible risk factors and understanding how people may become infected. You don’t need to have been diagnosed with Buruli ulcer to take part in this study.

DHHS have advised that until more is known about how this disease is spread, it makes sense to protect yourself from possible sources of transmission by:

  • Avoiding insect bites by using suitable insect repellents and long clothing, especially during the warmer months or high mosquito activity;
  • Protecting cuts or abrasions with sticking plasters;
  • Promptly washing and covering any scratches or cuts received while working outdoors; and
  • Seeing your doctor if you have a persistent skin lesion and mention the possibility of Buruli ulcer.

For more information about the Beating Buruli in Victoria project or how to take part visit: www2.health.vic.gov.au/beatingburuli

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