Flesh-eating ulcer research gets boost

The Victorian and Federal Governments are providing funding for research into the flesh-eating Buruli ulcer

Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced that the Turnbull Government is stumping up $1.5 million, which will be used by the University of Melbourne to study mosquitos in areas around Victoria where the ulcers have been reported.

“There has recently been a spike in cases of the bacterial infection which causes weeping ulcers and can lead to serious injury,” Minister Hunt says.

“This terrible disease has been found to occur in Far North Queensland as well as parts of coastal Victoria, including East Gippsland, Phillip Island, the Mornington Peninsula and the Bellarine Peninsula. 

“This is a horrible and painful medical condition and research is vital to get to the bottom of this emerging health challenge.”

Buruli ulcer is a skin disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium ulcerans. These bacteria are found naturally in the environment.

It has been a notifiable condition in Victoria since 2004, and notifications have been increasing steadily over recent years on the Mornington and Bellarine Peninsulas.

Cases are diagnosed all year round, with a peak in diagnosis occurring between June and November each year. So far this year there have been 35 notifications of Buruli ulcer, compared with 39 cases to the same time last year. There were a total of 275 cases notified in 2017.

The two-year study will be led by Professor Tim Stinear from the University of Melbourne, who has found mosquitoes are a key factor in spreading the bacteria causing the ulcers to humans.

This will be one of the first investigations of its kind in the world first to study the transmission of the Buruli ulcer, and is hoped to provide evidence to inform public health policies to control this emerging disease. 

The investigation will also be supported by Mornington Peninsula Shire, Barwon Health and the Victorian Government’s Department of Health and Human Services. 

Victoria’s Minister for Health, Jill Hennessy, also announced a contribution of $250,000 to help bolster the research.

The Federal Government has already provided $2.4 million in research funding for inquiring into this disease.

Last year a thirteen-year-old girl, Ella Crofts, called for an increase in research into the Victorian outbreak, after she developed knee pain and the skin on the joint began to break down. After searching for a diagnosis, she was eventually diagnosed with Buruli ulcer.

Minister Hunt said that if the research can find a way to stop the transmission of the Buruli ulcer through its bacterial pathway, “Ella and other people like Ella won’t have to suffer this condition”.

“So we’re in that situation where we genuinely have a pathway to stop what can be an agonising and disfiguring condition. To give people that sense of hope and possibility that they will never have to go through what Ella has had to go through.”

This project is one of 23 which will share in more than $20 million of funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), under the Partnership Project Grants.

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