Monash Health in the Media: Buruli ulcer awareness

Prof Rhonda Stuart speaking with 7News at Monash Medical Centre

Professor Rhonda Stuart, Monash Health’s Director of Public Health and Infection Prevention, joined 7News to encourage the community, particularly Mornington Peninsula residents, to avoid mosquito bites this summer as new data shows an increase in Buruli ulcer cases in the region.  

Buruli ulcer causes an infection of the skin and soft tissue that can develop into destructive skin ulcers. There is increasing evidence that mosquitos may be able to transmit the disease. 

Between January and October 2023, 312 cases were reported in Victoria, up from 264 in the same period last year. On the Mornington Peninsula, case numbers jumped to 93, up from 73 for the same period in 2022.  

“With the warmer weather, the mosquito season is now under way and will continue through until autumn,” Professor Stuart said.  

“Your best protection against mosquitoes and the diseases they can carry is to avoid mozzie bites.”  

Professor Stuart said it could take several months for symptoms of Buruli ulcer to appear, meaning people bitten and infected in summer may not notice a lump on their skin until winter.  

The first sign of Buruli ulcer is usually a painless, non-tender lump, commonly on the arm or leg. It is often mistaken for an insect or spider bite and is sometimes itchy.  

It can take several weeks before the lump develops into an ulcer on the skin, which is when people often go to their doctor.  

“The condition is curable and treated with antibiotics,” Professor Stuart said.  

“But it is important that infections are diagnosed and treated early, otherwise infection can spread and take longer to treat and longer to heal.”  

If left untreated, it can lead to severe skin and limb damage, so early treatment is vital. “Everyone is susceptible to infection. Disease can occur at any age and does not spread from person to person.”  

Since 2012 there has been a significant increase in the number of cases on the Mornington Peninsula and in Melbourne’s bayside suburbs.  

Professor Stuart said people could protect themselves by taking simple precautions.   

“You can avoid mosquito bites by using personal insect repellents containing diethyltoluamide (DEET) or picaridin, covering up by wearing long, loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing, and by avoiding mosquito-prone areas, especially at dusk and dawn. You can also mosquito-proof your home by securing insect screens,” Prof Stuart said.  

“If you’re planning on gardening or working outside, wearing gardening gloves can reduce your infection risk in addition to protecting cuts and abrasions with a dressing, promptly washing any new scratches or cuts you receive with soap and applying a topical antiseptic and dressing. Exposed skin contaminated by soil or water should be washed following all outdoor activities.”  

“We also urge residents and visitors to reduce mosquito breeding sites around homes and camp sites by reducing areas where water can pool (including pot plant containers, buckets, open tins or cans, discarded tyres, and other untreated, freshwater pools).”  

 

Approved by Professor Rhonda Stuart, Director of Public Health and Infection Prevention

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