A flesh eating disease has spread to a non-coastal part of Melbourne for the first time, with several cases reported.
Chief health officer Professor Brett Sutton issued an alert on Tuesday after several cases of Buruli ulcer were identified in the Essendon, Moonee Ponds and Brunswick areas.
Research suggests there is a common source of infection.
The skin infection is caused by a bacterium that leads to lesions on the skin, which can look like an insect bite.
Sometimes they are itchy and over time can grow into a destructive skin ulcer.
The lesion is most common on limbs and it can be painful.
Authorities say the risk of getting the infection in these areas is considered low.
However, it is the first non-coastal area in Victoria to be recognised as a potential source of risk.
The bacterium produces a toxin that affects the immune system while continuing to damage tissue.
Since the ulcer gets bigger with time, early diagnosis and prompt treatment can minimise skin loss and tissue damage.
If left untreated, surgery may be needed.
Skin lesions – red patches, ulcers, lumps or peoples – that don’t heal should be assessed by a doctor and tested for Buruli ulcer.
It is not known how humans become infected although it’s thought mosquitoes may play a role in its spread.
The bacteria are found naturally in the environment and besides being detected in mosquitoes, have also been found in vegetation and possum poo.
The potential source of the bacteria in Melbourne’s inner north has not been established, although the bacteria were isolated from the faeces of a local possum.
The disease does not spread from person to person and there is no evidence it spreads from possums directly to humans.
People of any age can be infected but notifications are highest in Victorians aged 60 years and over.
Buruli ulcer must be notified to the state health department within five days of diagnosis.
The number of cases in Victoria varies widely from year to year, but numbers have been increasing each year from 2013.