Experts

‘Rampant’ flesh-eating bacteria that struck down teen puzzles experts

A young girl struck down by flesh-eating bacteria has spoken of the “incredible pain” the disease caused her, making her unable to walk some days.

Victorian teenager Ella Crofts was diagnosed with Mycobacterium Ulcerans in April, leaving her with a hole the size of her palm in her knee.

“My knee was feeling a bit sore but there wasn’t really anything obvious until it then became a bit swollen and red. It got worse and worse and the skin started to break down and that’s when I developed an open wound,” Ella said to 9NEWS.

“It was incredibly painful at the start, some days I struggled to walk. That pain’s beginning to ease off but it’s still uncomfortable.”

The 13-year-old and her family have now travelled to Queensland in the hopes the warmth and humidity will help her wounds.

“Going to get into the ocean to have a bit of therapy on my knee,” she said.

The flesh-eating, ulcer-causing bacteria usually found in tropical countries is “running rampant” on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, leaving the state’s health experts puzzled.

Mycobacterium Ulcerans which eats away at the limbs like gangrene, has more than doubled in Victoria in the last year with 240 new cases.

In the past few months nine people have been diagnosed with it each week.

The disease, also known as the Bairnsdale Ulcer, is strangely migrating from the Bellarine peninsula to the Mornington peninsula, which has become a hot-spot for the disease.

 “We thought she had bumped it or knocked her knee, she is a pretty active girl,” Ella’s mum, Lucy Burns, told 9NEWS.

“Once it started to get really red and painful we thought there was something more to this.”

“The hardest thing was watching it be so painful, she’s a brave kid and normally she’s very adventurous.

“As a parent trying to watch your child go through the pain was the hardest thing.”

The Victorian Health Department says cases of mycobacterium ulcerans, which causes flesh-eating ulcers known as Bairnsdale or Buruli ulcers, have increased 50 percent over last year.

“We’ve had 159 cases this year to date… it is an increase, but for reasons we fully don’t know why,” a department spokesman said.

“It’s a medical conundrum.”

The Health Department has been researching mycobacterium ulcerans since 1998 when it was prevalent on the Bellarine Peninsula, on the other side of Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay.

But experts are yet to determine why the tropical bacteria is flourishing in a temperate climate.

“It’s not as if nothing has been done … lots of people have been looking at this for years,” a spokesman said.

There were 102 cases diagnosed in Victoria in 2016.

After Ella was diagnosed with the flesh-eating disease, she started a petition with the state and federal government to fund research into the bacteria.

“When my knee started getting very bad and I found there was hardly and research going into it,” she told 9NEWS.

“I was quite confused because I figured this is a bit of an odd infection.”

“Because Australia is a rather wealth country, I was keen to not only help the Aussie’s who suffer for it but people who are in very poor countries.”

Ella says she has spoken to federal Health Minister Greg Hunt last night.

“He has promised to support further research,” she wrote online.

Doctors are unclear how the disease we contract the but do not believe it transfers from human-to-human.

© Nine Digital Pty Ltd 2017

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