Buruli ulcer spread prompts Chief Health Officer alert

November 18, 2022 BY

A Surf Coast Shire mosquito trap used to monitor and record disease spread from the insects. Photo: TIM LAMACRAFT

VICTORIA’s Deputy Chief Health Officer has issued an alert for the growing spread of the flesh eating Buruli ulcer throughout the region, as case numbers in greater Geelong spike at record highs.

Barwon Health issued a statement on Wednesday last week, saying the disease had spread into new geographical areas including the Surf Coast in Aireys Inlet and several suburbs of Greater Geelong, in particular Belmont, Highton, Wandana Heights, Newtown, Grovedale and Marshall.

Department of Health data lists 40 reported cases in Greater Geelong this year, compared with last years previous high of 37.

The Bellarine is also on the list, although Borough of Queenscliffe specific data shows only three cases have been reported in 2022 compared with six in the previous two years and a peak of 14 in 2011.


The same data shows the Surf Coast Shire has four reported cases this year, the same number as 2021 and below a peak of six in 2020.

Prior to 2010 the disease had not been reported as present in the Surf Coast.There have been 266 notified cases in Victoria this year.

Alternatively known as the Bairnsdale ulcer the skin disease is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium ulcerans and areas where soil, mosquitoes and possums are carrying it is where humans usually contract it.

Patients usually develop a painless lump or wound that can initially be mistaken for an insect bite, however over an average of four to six months can slowly develop into a skin ulcer.

Although the disease can occur in people at any age notifications are highest in people 60 years and over in Victoria, and health authorities say early diagnosis through testing can significantly reduce skin loss and tissue damage and simplify treatment.

Victoria’s deputy Chief Health Officer is urging people to use known repellents to prevent mosquito bites. Photo: UNSPLASH

Deputy Director of the Barwon South West Public Health Unit Associate Professor Daniel O’Brien said it’s working with researchers from CSIRO Geelong to undertake analysis of new cases and their locations to better inform the community and local GPs on where and how the ulcer is being acquired.

“To identify cases as early as possible to help ensure early diagnosis and prompt treatment and also develop our understanding of possible causes of the ulcer and its spread,” he said.

“Although the exact mechanism of infection in humans is still under investigation, we do know that some precautions can possibly reduce the risk of infection.”

Preventative measures include reducing mosquito breeding sites around homes and ensuring insect screens are in place and intact; using repellents that are known to be effective and minimising exposure of skin to soils.