Surgeon brings ulcer to world
SURGEON Dr Christina Steffen is bringing the Daintree Ulcer to the world stage after being invited to present data at the World Health Organisation’s Buruli Ulcer annual meeting.
Based at the Cairns Base Hospital and a resident Daintree Ulcer expert, Dr Steffen said she is honoured to present her findings and discuss questions raised during the outbreak in 2011.
There were 65 cases of the Daintree Ulcer in 2011 and Dr Steffen operated on 42 of them, with another 25 cases reported last year.
Mycobacterium ulcerans is responsible for the Daintree Ulcer and is found all over the world under different names.
‘‘WHO listed the disease as one of the most common mycobacterial disease after leprosy and tuberculosis in the world, it’s a major public health problem particularly in west African countries,’’ she said.
‘‘It’s a health problem for us too but we have fewer cases because of the lower population and we are better equipped to deal with them.’’
There has been advances in the treatment of Daintree Ulcers since Dr Steffen’s first encounter in the ’90s, with doctors now using a combination of antibiotics and surgery to remove them.
What is still unknown is the cause of the ulcer.
‘‘ Our communities are pretty well informed and quite aware of the problem so they tend to present earlier and that helps with the outcomes and research,’’ Dr Steffen said.
‘‘For example one person who said they were bitten by a march fly managed to get samples to send down to Melbourne to see if they were carrying it and the first results were negative but with the second results a couple were positive.’’
This new information follows other reports of getting the ulcer after a tic or mosquito bite and falling off a playground.
‘‘There are two schools of thought, that it’s just in the environment and people somehow pick it up and the other school of thought which I lean towards is the organism itself has evolved and genetic materials allow it to live freely in the dirt,’’ she said.
‘‘So it’s adapted itself and can live in a living organism but can’t survive outside of it, so logic would say, ‘How can you pick it up from the dirt if it’s unable to survive there’?
‘‘That is the $6 million question.’’