A growing health concern in Victoria over the past four years has been the rise in reported cases of Buruli ulcers, caused by Mycobacterium ulcerans. Between 2015 and 2018 notifications of infection have steadily grown, particularly on the Bellarine and Mornington Peninsulas where it’s endemic.

Now, following new notifications of infection, the Geelong suburb of Belmont and Aireys Inlet on the Surf Coast are suspected as areas of transmission.

“There have been a small number of cases detected in these areas, but the risk of transmission remains low,” says Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Doctor Brett Sutton in a statement.

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

It’s not yet fully understood how humans are infected by the mycobacterium or what conditions it prefers to live in, but it’s suspected that infection comes from the environment through unprotected cuts and grazes, and potentially mosquito bites.

Symptoms typically appear four weeks to 10 months after exposure, usually within the four to five month window. They can include persistent lumps or ulcers with swelling and redness on exposed parts of the body. If left untreated, the mycobacterium can chew through skin and capillaries, supress the immune system, and – in the worst cases – even lead to gangrene. It’s not believed to spread person-to-person.

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

The Department of Health and Human Services advises Victorians to avoid insect bites through the use of insect repellent, particularly in areas with high concentrations of mosquitoes; use sticking plasters to cover cuts and abrasions; and to mention the possibility of a Buruli ulcer with your doctor if you have a persistent lesion.

For more information head to health.vic.gov.au.