Department of Health

Free tests to identify Buruli Ulcer as spread widens

Published by Department of Health & Human Services

Recent notifications of cases of Buruli ulcer in Victoria suggest that Aireys Inlet on the Surf Coast and the Geelong suburb of Belmont are new areas of local transmission.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Dr Brett Sutton said Buruli ulcer, caused by Mycobacterium ulcerans, is a growing concern in Victoria with a steady increase in notifications between 2015 and 2018 in people who have travelled to, or live in endemic areas.

“Endemic areas include the Bellarine and Mornington Peninsulas, but recent cases suggest that Aireys Inlet and the Geelong suburb of Belmont are newly identified areas of local transmission,” Dr Sutton said.

“There have been a small number of cases detected in these areas, but the risk of transmission remains low.

“There have been a total 240 cases notified so far in 2019 compared with 299 cases during the same period in 2018.

“Laboratory testing for Buruli ulcer is now free for patients, although a handling fee may be charged by private pathology companies,” Dr Sutton said.

In an updated Chief Health Officer Advisory issued to medical professionals today, Dr Sutton says early diagnosis is critical to prevent skin and tissue loss.

Medical practitioners are being advised to consider the diagnosis of Buruli ulcer in patients with a persistent ulcer, lump or swelling and redness, especially on exposed parts of the body.

People of any age can get infected and symptoms can occur four weeks to ten months after exposure, but typically around four to five months.

The Department has seen a rapid increase in notifications of Buruli ulcer between 2015 and 2018, 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.

The Department is supporting a research collaboration 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.

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 mentioning the possibility of Buruli ulcer.

For more information about the Beating Buruli in Victoria project or how to take part visit the Beating Buruli page on Health.vic.

Reviewed 31 October 2019


Contact details

Bram Alexander Department of Health Media Unit

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