Mosquito larvae are seen at a "sex separation area" inside Sun Yat-Sen University-Michigan State University Joint Center of Vector Control for Tropical Disease. Reuters/Bobby Yip

Melbourne’s southeast suburbs are being terrorised by a flesh-eating ulcer that can even lead to limb amputations. The flesh-eating ulcer, known as Buruli ulcer, has hit record levels in Victoria where 45 cases have been reported this year. The inner Melbourne suburbs of Cheltenham, Hampton and Bentleigh have now been affected by the disease.

The ulcer, also known as the Bairnsdale ulcer, may be contracted when someone comes in touch with mosquitoes, water bodies and even possums. However, researchers are still to find the exact mode of transmission of the flesh-eating disease.

This ghastly disease was first reported in the 1930s in Bairnsdale, Victoria. More recently, it has been detected in the Bellarine and Mornington Peninsulas. If left untreated, the flesh-eating ulcer eats at the skin and also capillaries. This may also lead to gangrene, which may result in amputation of limbs in the most severe of cases.

If identified early, antibiotics can successfully treat the disease and once the incubation period is over, the ulcer will appear as a small pimple only. Victoria is the only non-tropical locale that has recorded Buruli ulcer cases, writes

“It's moved, for reasons we don't understand, and it's setting up shop in Melbourne. Every year it seems to be establishing new pockets all the way round the Mornington Peninsula,” Austin Hospital associate professor who is an expert on the ulcer, officially called mycobacterium, Paul Johnson, told The Age.

There are certain ways that may be followed to avoid getting infected. Wearing fully covering clothes is essential to reduce chances of insect bites. Using insect repellent on exposed skin may also help. Cleaning and covering cuts and abrasions is absolutely necessary. Avoiding places where the disease has been reported is important. In case of doubt, a general physician should be contacted without further delay. A very fast and accurate diagnostic test is available.