Victorians have been urged to stay on high alert as cases of a flesh-eating bacterial infection increase in the state.
Coburg grandmother Fiona Wordie first felt an itch on her foot and assumed she had suffered a spider bite.
Within days, the sore on her foot got bigger and became painful and she realised something wasn’t right.
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The 66-year-old was quickly admitted to hospital, where doctors were at first baffled.
“The foot was all purple, the skin was all peeling off,” Wordie said.
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Eventually, a diagnosis was made – Wordie was suffering from Buruli ulcer, a skin disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium ulcerans.
The bacteria emits toxins that destroy skin cells, small blood vessels and the fat under the skin. This leads to the formation of an ulcer and skin loss.
“I was in agony,” Wordie said.
“I got nerve pain in the wound, and that is the worst pain I have ever felt … it was shocking. I thought I was going to lose my leg.”
Fiona Wordie fell sick with the infectious disease in June. Credit: 7NEWS
Case numbers of Buruli ulcer are increasing in Melbourne, with 216 cases detected so far this year.
Most people are exposed to the infection during the summer months, infectious diseases professor Eugene Athan told 7NEWS.
He said one of the theories researchers have about how the disease is spread is that the germ is brought into an area through soil contamination, or through possums.
“In their (the possums) droppings, in the environment, they potentially could introduce the bacteria into an area, a parkland where people might spend time, walk the dogs,” he said.
“There is also an association with water bodies, rivers, lakes etc.”
It’s believed possums are responsible for spreading the disease. Credit: 7NEWS
There is also increasing evidence that mosquitos are also responsible for transmitting the disease.
Wordie, who spent two weeks in hospital with the infection, also suffers from diabetes.
Research has found there is a link between diabetes and Buruli ulcer.
“We found two key risk factors among hosts, the risk factor of having underlying diabetes as a diagnosis increases the risk of developing the disease,” Athan said.
“The other risk group were those who spent a lot of time working, or spending time outdoors.”
While the disease is commonly found along coastal locations on the Mornington and Bellarine Peninsulas and in Geelong, it has also made its way into Melbourne’s inner north.
Impacted suburbs include Pascoe Vale South, Essendon, Brunswick West, Moonee Ponds and Strathmore.
Fiona suffered an ulcer on her foot and said she thought she was going to lose her leg. Credit: 7NEWS
Despite coming down with the disease in June, Wordie thinks she contracted Buruli ulcer in November last year.
The average incubation for the disease period is estimated to be between four and five months, however, it can be as long as nine months.
Wordie is also confident she knows how she caught the infection.
“(I have a) birdhouse … (and) a possum lives in there,” she said.
“I’ve got a little pond there that was full of water and sludge, and mosquitos everywhere.”
To avoid contracting the disease, Victorians have been advised to apply insect repellent and keep their arms and legs covered.
They should also make sure to wash any wounds immediately and wash their hands after being outdoors.
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