Of the different kinds of horrible diseases roaming around the planet, none is more terrifying than the flesh-eating kind. What could be more terrifying than watching your skin and other tissues rot right off your body and being powerless to stop it? Maybe being turned into a flesh-eating zombie while still being conscious, but with so few cases to go on, those usually get chalked up as anomalous.
As far as flesh-eating diseases go, cases are fairly rare in the developed world aside from the occasional odds-defying instance where bacteria in untreated bodies of water enters a victim’s body through an open wound. However, an epidemic of cases in Australia has health officials both horrified and stumped over what could be behind such an outbreak.
In the last couple of years, cases of a flesh-eating bacteria called mycobacterium ulcerans have more than tripled in the Australian state of Victoria and medical experts don’t know why. The outbreak has so far been confined mostly to the Mornington Peninsula just south of Melbourne, but cases have even begun popping up in Melbourne proper.
Researchers believe the infection might be spread by mosquitoes, but there is a lack of research on the disease. According to Geelong Hospital deputy director of infectious diseases Daniel O’Brien, little is known about this mysterious and gruesome infection:
It’s getting more severe. We see now twice as many severe cases as we saw five years ago. And the biggest concern is we don’t know how to prevent it. There is a complete knowledge vacuum. The only way to address it is to do some very thorough, basic scientific research. It needs to be done urgently and immediately, and it needs to be funded, and nobody is at this stage.
After becoming infected with the flesh-eating bacteria, a 13-year-old named Ella Crofts launched an online petition imploring Health Minister Greg Hunt to devote more funding to researching the mysterious disease. In the meantime, residents of Victoria and the Mornington Peninsula can protect themselves by wearing insect repellent and covering their skin.