Mysterious flesh-eating bug’s scary spread
IT started with a simple two cases back in 2000.
Now experts predict an alarming 400 cases of the terrifying buruli ulcer this year.
The mysterious flesh-eating bug is becoming more severe as incidents spread across Victoria.
Now experts warn it is only a matter of time before it moves interstate and targets other parts of the country.
The infection starts as a painless sore than can initially be mistaken as an insect bite but can slowly progress into a destructive skin ulcer.
Doctors say there is an "epidemic" of the infection across Victoria's Bellarine and Mornington Peninsulas.
Dr Daniel O'Brien, who treats the infection, said the situation had worsened.
"This is by far and away the worst outbreak we've ever seen in Australia," he told A Current Affair on Wednesday night.
"It's rapidly increasing, it's becoming more severe.
"It's a problem that's increasing quite alarmingly. In some people they're getting much more aggressive and damaging infections."
Doctors are still struggling to understand how the bug spreads and how to stop it.
They are examining links with possum faeces and mosquitoes.
Former Olympian Neil Hewitt, 80, has had 15 operations since contracting the ulcer while gardening in the backyard.
At one point the pain got so bad he asked doctors to give him a pill and put him to sleep, or at the very least take his arm off.
Mr Hewitt spent more than three months in hospital after the bug caused the flesh on his arm to "rot away".
"It ate the flesh away. It's changed my life," he told the Mornington Peninsula Leader.
Jett, 12, is learning to walk again after the ulcer changed his family's life.
"I remember the moment the doctor came out of surgery … he said there's a real chance if we don't find out what this is he will lose his leg," his mum Arna-Leigh told A Current Affair.
"I remember those words. It was really terrifying."
Bianca Ludowyke, a 31-year-old mother of two from Tootgarook on the Mornington Peninsula, was initially misdiagnosed with an infected spider bite in May.
"The hospital didn't know what was going on," she told The Australian.
"I asked them to test it for Buruli ulcer but they wouldn't. I was told to go away and come back in a few months if it hadn't healed.
"With Isla, we were referred straight away to Dr O'Brien and got the treatment started early, so it never became a huge, open wound like mine. It's now just a little mark on her hand."
Rates across the Victorian peninsula have soared from two cases in 2000 to 277 last year.
Earlier this year a startling report in the Medical Journal Of Australia demanded an "urgent scientific response", citing a 400 per cent increase in confirmed infections in four years.
It's estimated to cost $14,000 per patient to treat.
Microbiologist Tim Stinear from the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity said experts have been gobsmacked.
"We're in uncharted territory here," Professor Stinear told The Australian.
"It's extremely alarming just how much this problem continues to escalate."