A long-running medical mystery has finally been solved, with Melbourne researchers confirming mosquitoes carry the bacteria that causes flesh-eating Buruli ulcers.
The insects have long been suspected as carriers but Doherty Institute scientists say they faced significant scepticism as they set out to prove the link.
But it has now officially been confirmed, with their study published in respected peer-reviewed journal Nature Microbiology.
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Victoria last year recorded a record 363 cases of the flesh-eating ulcer which can lead to severe skin damage including painful lumps, limb swelling and severe pain.
It’s long been suspected that mosquitoes carry the bacteria that causes flesh-eating Buruli ulcers. Credit: AAP
Clusters centre around the Mornington Peninsula and Geelong areas, with cases also reported in inner Melbourne.
Lead researcher Professor Tim Stinear said the findings show prevention efforts need to focus on controlling mosquito populations and stopping bites.
“How Buruli ulcer is spread to people has baffled scientists and public health experts for decades,” Stinear said.
“So now that mystery is solved.”
Over five years scientists trapped and forensically tested more than 65,000 mosquitoes on the Mornington Peninsula, finding bacteria in the insects identical to that found in ulcer patients.
Infectious diseases physician Professor Paul Johnson said there was no precedent for bacteria to be transmitted this way.
“Our team faced considerable scepticism, so we gathered irrefutable evidence to support our claim,” he said.
“This research is significant because we can all take simple actions, like applying insect repellent and removing stagnant water around the house, to protect the community and reduce the risk of Buruli ulcer.”
The scientists are now focused on a trial aiming to reduce the number of mosquitoes in inner Melbourne.