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Mosquito culls to combat mystery ulcer
Cases of the Buruli ulcer have skyrocketed in recent years, with a record 275 infections across the state in 2017, compared to less than 50 in 2010.
While experts believe mosquitoes are a big player in the spread of the disease, and that possums are also carriers, they are unsure why the debilitating condition is affecting some areas and not others.
The Mornington Peninsula is the hardest hit region, with residents complaining of deep and weeping ulcers caused by the tropical bacteria Mycobacterium ulcerans.
A “world-first ” project announced by the Turnbull Government today will combine research with a mosquito eradication program on the Mornington Peninsula and, possibly, other impacted areas.
“This is a horrible and painful medical condition and research is vital to get to the bottom of this new health challenge,” said Health Minister Greg Hunt.
Professor Tim Stinear, a molecular microbiologist with the University of Melbourne, said mosquito control could start this year, involving teams from the Victorian health department.
“There is a technique called fogging, where they will use insecticides, or they can put chemical tablets into local reservoirs or water bodies that can prevent the mosquito lavae from developing,” Professor Stinear said. “We are being a bit more bold and trying to do something that will stop the disease.”
It is welcome news for residents in affected areas who have been campaigning for months for more government funding for research into causes and treatments.
Tom Danaher, who lives in Mount Eliza on the Mornington Peninsula, said it took nearly five weeks for his six-year-old daughter Madeleine to be correctly diagnosed with a Buruli ulcer last year.
Hospital doctors and GPs repeatedly treated her for suspected cellulitis, before she was finally diagnosed by a specialist, he said.
Madeleine’s symptoms had started off as very mild – a bump that looked like a mosquito bite, that wouldn’t go away.
“It just started getting bigger and redder,” Mr Danaher said.
Even after she was diagnosed and given high-strength antibiotics, her condition continued to get worse.
“That obviously killed the infection, but while it’s doing that, the hole is getting bigger and bigger, and deeper and deeper,” Mr Danaher said.
“Once the wound opened, it was really painful for her.”
Madeleine, now seven, has been left with a scar that may require plastic surgery in the future.
Mr Danaher is frustrated doctors were at first dismissive of the family’s suspicions of a Buruli ulcer, and that health authorities had made no attempts to investigate the case once she was diagnosed.
“We lived in a place where there was a lot of low-lying water. There were lots of mosquitoes. Possums existed in many trees where we lived,” he said.
The Turnbull Government this week pledged $1.5 million for the new research and intervention project, while the Andrews Government spent $250,000.
A spokeswoman for Victorian health minister Jill Hennessy said there had been 35 fresh cases of Buruli ulcer diagnosed this year, compared to 39 the year before.
The Victorian team of researchers will also investigate if there are other risk factors for the Buruli ulcer yet to be identifiedsuch as other biting insects involved in spread of bacteria or soil types that harbour it.
“There are mosquitoes everywhere. There are possums everywhere. There are humans everywhere,” Professor Stinear said.
“Why do we only see this disease in certain places?’’
Copyright © 2018 The Age AGE – Thursday, 26 Apr 2018 – Page 2