Tackling the worsening epidemic of Buruli ulcer in Australia in an information void: time for an urgent scientific response

Daniel P O'Brien, Eugene Athan, Kim Blasdell and Paul De Barro
Med J Aust 2018; 208 (7): . || doi: 10.5694/mja17.00879
Published online: 16 April 2018

Understanding risk factors is key to defining the source and transmission route of Mycobacterium ulcerans

Mycobacterium ulcerans causes an infectious disease known internationally as Buruli ulcer, and also as Bairnsdale ulcer or Daintree ulcer in Australia. It causes severe destructive lesions of skin and soft tissue, resulting in significant morbidity, in attributable mortality and often in long term disability and cosmetic deformity.1 All age groups, including young children, are affected, and the emotional and psychological impact on patients and their carers is substantial (Box 1). Although treatment effectiveness has improved in recent years, with cure rates approaching 100% using combination antibiotic regimens such as rifampicin and clarithromycin,2 these antibiotics are not covered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for this condition and are, therefore, expensive to patients. Moreover, these antibiotics have severe side effects in up to one-quarter of patients,1 and many people also require reparative plastic surgery, sometimes with prolonged hospital admissions. The disease thus results in substantial costs, averaging $14 000 per patient including direct3 and indirect costs (eg, transport, lost productivity and dressings) — it had an estimated cost to Victoria in 2016 of $2 548 000 (Paul Mwebaze, Research Scientist, Adaptive Urban and Social Systems, Land and Water, CSIRO, Australia, personal communication, June 2017).

  • 1 Barwon Health, Geelong, VIC
  • 2 Geelong Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases, Geelong, VIC
  • 3 CSIRO, Brisbane, QLD


Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.

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