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In the Melbourne suburbs of Essendon, Moonee Ponds and Brunswick West, Victoria’s Department of Health has discovered cases of the flesh-eating Buruli ulcer, the first time a non-coastal area has been identified as a possible risk area.

The department said that a “handful” of cases had been discovered over a period of time that were related.

In the faeces of a local possum, the bacteria had also been isolated but the source had not been identified.

Initially, Tim Stinear of the Doherty Institute in Melbourne said it was difficult to know whether these individuals contracted the disease in their homes or in their coastal vacation homes where the ulcer was more prevalent.

“Recently we’ve been able to use the power of genomics to establish evidence of the local transmission of Buruli ulcer in these inner suburbs,” Professor Stinear said.

“Yes it is a flesh-eating disease but it’s a very slowly moving one, one we can treat and if we detect it early then it’s not a serious infection.

“I don’t think there’s a cause for huge alarm here.”

An insect bite may initially be mistaken for a skin infection caused by the bacterium mycobacterium ulcerans (M. ulcerans).

It may progress to potentially damaging skin lesions known as Buruli, or Bairnsdale, ulcers over a period of months.

It may leave people maimed or scarred for life, although the disease is not fatal.

“If people present with a small mosquito bite that doesn’t look quite right there’s a very good diagnostic test,” Professor Stinear said.

“If you’re given the right antibiotics then there’s a really good clinical outcome for people.”

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