Buruli ulcer

Bairnsdale ulcer, Searls ulcer, Daintree ulcer

Overview

Type of disease: Rare conditions

Buruli ulcer is a chronic (long-term) skin infection caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium ulcerans. This bacteria releases a harmful substance that weakens the body’s immune system and causes tissue damage. Though it has been reported in 33 countries, it is most common in tropical and sub-tropical climates and especially in poor, rural regions in Africa. Buruli ulcers can affect any race, age or age but is most commonly found in children ages 5-15 except in Australia where the average age is over 50. Initially, symptoms typically include a painless bump usually with additional swelling around it. It can also present as widespread painless swelling of the arms and legs. As the infection progresses, the skin bumps (nodules) turn into an ulcer, which can be larger under the skin than is visible by the swelling. In the most severe cases, bone can be involved. Arms and legs are most common sites of infection.

It is not known how this disease is contracted or spread. Therefore, prevention measures are unknown aside from early detection and diagnosis. There are current theories under investigation that an insect may play a role in carrying the disease, but this is not confirmed. There are currently no vaccines for preventing this disease, but the Baccillus Calmette-Guerin vaccine might provide temporary protection. Diagnosis is typically based on the presence of ulcers and additional specialized testing. If the disease is detected early, antibiotic treatment is effective in most people; however, if left untreated, long-term disability is the norm. Medications frequently used for treatment include a combination of antibiotics. Depending on the severity, surgery might be the more appropriate option.

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