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23 May 2005
Flesh Eating Disease
Find out about a mysterious flesh-eating disease known as the Bairnsdale Ulcer.


DR JOHN CARNIE, VIC DEPUTY CHIEF HEALTH OFFICER: We try to avoid terms like flesh-eating bug.

MICK BUNWORTH: Understandably, perhaps, health officials are wary of such tabloid terms, but "eat flesh" is exactly what Mycobacterium ulcerans, or Bairnsdale ulcer, does if left untreated.

Nationally, 35 people were diagnosed with the ulcer last year, but more than half of those had visited or lived in Point Lonsdale, and the surrounding Bellarine Peninsula, 150 south-west of Melbourne.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR PAUL JOHNSON: Transmission of Mycobacterium ulcerans occurs relatively commonly in Far North Queensland in a very small area, north of Mossman. There has been a case this year in Darwin and another case last year. There has been a couple of cases in Rockhampton and along the tropical north of Queensland. But much less common at the moment than we're seeing down here in Victoria. For inexplicable reasons, it's not showing up in New South Wales or South Australia, although things could change.

MICK BUNWORTH: Dr Paul Johnson is with Austin Health's infectious diseases department in Melbourne. He's a world-renowned authority on Mycobacterium ulcerans and helped to develop a diagnostic test.

Dr Johnson has also written a manual for those working with the disease in Africa, where it's known as Buruli ulcer and can cripple sufferers if left untreated.

In an effort to pin down the cause of the disease, Dr Johnson's research team is monitoring the Bellarine Peninsula's mosquito population. He believes they may just made a key discovery.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR PAUL JOHNSON: This is really the first time that adult mosquitoes have been shown to have any trace of this organism on them. But that doesn't mean that it's how you get infected. We have to keep our eye on the ball and make sure we consider all other options.

MICK BUNWORTH: Dr Johnson's research has been enough for health authorities to issue a warning to Bellarine Peninsula residents and visitors.

DR JOHN CARNIE: We have new information to suggest that it has been found in mosquitoes. We don't know what part mosquitoes play in the actual transmission, but it would be prudent to try to avoid mosquito bites as far as possible.

MICK BUNWORTH: Dr Johnson will take his findings to a World Health Organisation Buruli ulcer conference in Geneva next month. He expects skepticism from other researchers.

MICK BUNWORTH: Victorian health authorities say they're determined to solve the mystery of the Bairnsdale ulcer. Is it fair to say that the Department won't rest until the mode of transmission is found?

DR JOHN CARNIE: Certainly, that is the ultimate goal, is to try and find the mode of transmission, and also then, what can we do about it? Because once you've found the mode of transmission, you then have to try to determine what public health actions can be recommended to the public in trying to reduce the risks of transmission.

MICK BUNWORTH: And with mosquito numbers booming after recent record rains, the people of the Bellarine Peninsula will need little encouragement to cover up.

story notes

Infectious means caused by an infection, and able to cause an infection. It means easily spread.
Some other words for infectious include contagious, communicable and a less formal word, catching. You might hear someone say:
Example: I stayed home because I thought my cold might be catching.

 world-renowned authority
Renowned means well known and respected. So world-renowned means known around the world. And an authority is an expert.

Written is the past participle of the irregular verb write.
more information: write

 pin down
To pin down means to establish clearly.
Example: I can't pin down the cause of your illness.

 team is monitoring
Monitoring means watching or observing. Notice that we use is with words like team that refer to more than one person, but are singular.
more information: is or are?

Shown is the past participle of the irregular verb show.
more information: show

 keep our eye on the ball
keep concentrating; stay focussed

 Is it fair to say
When the reporter asks is it fair to say?, he is asking whether the following statement is correct. He is asking if it’s correct that the department ‘won’t rest until the mode of transmission is found’.

 won't rest
To say they wont rest means they wont stop until they reach their goal.

 mode of transmission
A mode is a way or method. And transmission is the process of passing something from one person or place to another. So mode of transmission is another way of saying ‘the way the disease is passed on’.

Here found is the past participle of the irregular verb find.
more information: find

 ultimate goal
Ultimate means the most important or final.The most important goal is to find out how the disease is spread.

 cover up
To cover up is to put clothes on, usually for protection from the sun.