Federal government funding will try to link the spread of the Buruli ulcer to mosquitoes.Australia must use its research muscle to help stop the spread of a mysterious flesh-eating disease, the academic tasked with a multi-million project into its transmission in the southeast says.
University of Melbourne professor Tim Stinear will lead a two-year $3 million research project into Buruli ulcer which is believed to be linked to mosquitoes in spreading the bacteria to humans.
“Southeast Australia is one of the few places outside of west Africa where Buruli ulcer is prevalent,” he told the Doherty Institute on Thursday.
“This gives us an obligation, in fact, where we are well resourced, to study and try to understand this disease. It gives us a responsibility to do something about it.”
In one of the first investigations of its kind in the world to study the transmission of the Buruli ulcer, the study will use the funds to conduct a cull of the mosquitoes in coastal Victoria.
The federal government announced on Thursday it would invest $1.5 million to research the ulcer, which has spread throughout Victoria and far north Queensland.
Most commonly found in west or central Africa and usually associated with stagnant water, it can have devastating impacts on sufferers, including long-term disability and deformity.
In Victoria, the number of people contracting the disease has increased, with 182 new cases in 2016, 275 in 2017 and 30 so far in 2018 – and experts say there is potential for the disease to affect thousands in the state each year.
An additional $1.5 million will come from partnership funding including $250,000 from the Victorian government.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the nation had a genuine pathway to stop what can be an agonising and disfiguring condition while giving hope to others they may never have to endure it.
“This research money is about saving lives and protecting lives,” Mr Hunt said.
“Tim and his team already have a strong hypothesis about mosquito-borne transmission and if they can confirm that, then we can eradicate hotspots. We will be on our way, not just to providing a solution for Victoria and Australia, but for the world.”
More than $3 million has already been spent by state and federal governments in the past decade on researching the ulcer.
Australian Associated Press