Bairnsdale Ulcer or Buruli Ulcer Alert

This year we have seen several local cases, particularly over the last month, and are reminding our community to be aware of what to look for and how to lessen the risk of contracting a Bairnsdale ulcer. Point Lonsdale was a hotspot of the Bairnsdale ulcer several years ago, however we have had fewer cases since with no cases at all during 2019.

Please make an appointment to see your doctor if you have a non-healing ulcer or a painful, red or swollen area like a bite you are worried about.

The Bairnsdale or Buruli ulcer is a skin disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium ulcerans. The toxins made by the bacteria destroy skin cells, small blood vessels and the fat under the skin, which leads to ulceration and skin loss. These bacteria are found naturally in the environment – for example, they have been detected in mosquitoes, vegetation and possum poo from some possum species in areas where there have been cases.

Symptoms of a Bairnsdale ulcer

The progression of symptoms can include:

  • A spot that looks like a mosquito or spider bite forms on the skin (most commonly on the limbs).

  • The spot grows bigger over days or weeks.

  • The spot may form a crusty, non-healing scab.

  • The scab then disintegrates into an ulcer.

  • The ulcer continues to enlarge.

  • Unlike other ulcers, this ulcer is usually painless and there is generally no fever or other signs of infection.

  • The infection may sometimes present with no ulceration but with localised pain, swelling and fever, raised lumps, or thickened or raised flat areas of skin.

Preventative Measures

Although the exact cause of infection in humans is unclear, you need to protect yourself from potential sources of infection such as soil and insect bites. Suggestions to reduce the risk of infection include:

  • Wear gardening gloves, long-sleeved shirts and trousers when working outdoors.

  • Avoid insect bites by using suitable insect repellents.

  • Protect cuts or abrasions with sticking plasters.

  • Promptly wash and cover any scratches or cuts you receive while working outdoors.

  • See your doctor if you have a slow-healing skin lesion.

It is important to remember that the risk of infection is low, even in those areas where the infection is endemic (constantly present in the community).

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