A flesh-eating bacterium is spreading in Australia

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Buruli ulcer is spreading in Australia. Caused by the flesh-eating bacterium mycobacterium  ulcerans, this disease manifests by the death of skin and soft tissue. In recent years, the number of cases has risen sharply in Australia, reaching 286 cases in 2017.

“Nobody understands what’s going on and what is causing the epidemic,” an Australian doctor told the BBC. The number of infections with a flesh-eating bacterium is increasing. Australian doctors remain powerless in the face of its spread, and are seeking an answer to fight against its development.

In 2013, there were 74 infections with Buruli ulcer, the medical name of this bacterium. But the number of cases continues to increase exponentially year after year. In 2016, 186 were registered. For the year 2017, scientists estimate this number to 286 cases.

Buruli ulcer is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium ulcerans. It is part of the same family of bacteria as leprosy and tuberculosis. It produces a toxin that destroys skin tissue. This causes severe ulcers, which can sometimes reach the bones. Often, it is the arms or the legs that are affected. If the victim is not treated early enough, this can lead to serious disabilities or require restorative surgery. In all cases, the treatment is based on a combination of antibiotics. Patients need several months or even a year to fully recover.

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As the number of infections continues to increase, the need to find a prevention grows more urgent. However, researchers are struggling to understand how the disease spreads. It is believed that it spreads from insects to humans. Some cases have also been observed on Australian wildlife, koalas, dogs, opossums and cats, but scientists do not know if these animals can contaminate humans.

Reportedly, man-to-man contamination would be excluded.

Australia is not the only country affected by the disease. 33 countries around the world are fighting the bacteria. In 2016, the total number of cases worldwide was 2,206.

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Carl Frantz

Polyglot, humanitarian, Carl was born in Germany but raised in the USA. He writes mostly on tech, science and culture.