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Barwon Health / Barwon South West Public Health Unit

(03) 4215 4000

Buruli ulcer cases identified in additional Geelong suburbs

Wednesday, 09 November 2022

Cases of Buruli ulcer have increased significantly in Victoria in recent years, particularly along the Mornington and Bellarine peninsulas, and the disease is spreading into new geographical areas including the Surf Coast in Aireys Inlet and several suburbs of Greater Geelong, in particular Belmont, Highton, Wandana Heights, Newtown, Grovedale and Marshall.

Buruli ulcer (sometimes referred to as the Bairnsdale ulcer) is a skin disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium ulcerans.

The toxins made by the bacteria destroy skin cells, small blood vessels and the fat under the skin, which causes ulceration and skin loss. These lesions are usually painless. It is important to know that not all Buruli ulcers are ‘ulcers ‘ – they can be nodules or red painful swellings of limbs (often called cellulitis).

The ulcer generally gets bigger with time, so early diagnosis and prompt treatment can minimise skin loss and make treatment easier.

Associate Professor Daniel O’Brien, Deputy Director of the Barwon South West Public Health Unit, said the team and researchers from CSIRO Geelong are currently undertaking analysis of new cases and their locations to better inform the community and local GPs on where and how the ulcer is being acquired.

 It is hoped that a better understanding of the ulcer can help minimise the risk of catching the disease, help prevent its spread and help ensure early diagnosis and prompt treatment of those infected.

“Our team here at the Barwon South West Public Health Unit of clinicians and epidemiologists, are working with patients, GPs, researchers at CSIRO Geelong and the Department of Health to identify cases as early as possible to help ensure early diagnosis and prompt treatment and also develop our understanding of possible causes of the ulcer and its spread.

Although the exact mechanism of infection in humans is still under investigation, we do know that some precautions can possibly reduce the risk of infection”, he says.

Research has shown that areas where humans are most frequently contracting Buruli ulcer are areas where soil, mosquitoes and possums are most frequently carrying the causative bacteria. Infections are also more likely acquired in the warmer months, but can be acquired at any time of the year.

Therefore the following precautions can reduce your risk:

  • When gardening, working or spending time outdoors:
    • Wear gardening gloves, long sleeved shirts and trousers
    • Wear insect repellent on any exposed skin
    • Protect cuts and abrasions with a dressing
    • Promptly wash any new scratches or cuts you receive with soap and apply a topical antiseptic and dressing.
  • Reduce mosquito breeding sites around houses and other accommodation by reducing areas where water can pool (including pot plant containers, buckets, open tins or cans, discarded tyres, and other untreated, freshwater pools).
  • Mosquito proof your home by securing insect screens on accommodation.
  • Avoid mosquito bites by:
    • Using personal insect repellents containing diethyltoluamide (DEET) or picaridin
    • Covering up by wearing long, loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing
    • Avoiding mosquito-prone areas and vector biting times, especially at dusk and dawn.
  • Exposed skin contaminated by soil or water should be washed following outdoor activities. 
  • See your doctor early if you have a slow-healing or suspicious skin lesion.

Laboratory testing for Buruli ulcer can be conducted for free for patients (although a handling fee may still apply).

Click here for the Chief Health Officer advisory.

For more information on Buruli ulcer go to