Daintree virus has medicos baffled
HEALTH authorities are still no closer to understanding the cause of a mysterious flesh-eating virus found in the Daintree region.
Cairns Base Hospital general and vascular surgeon Christina Steffen told a conference on tropical surgery yesterday that researchers were still struggling to grasp how the infection was transmitted.
After 110 cases were reported in the Far North between 1966 and 2010, the region experienced a spike last year when 65 people were diagnosed with the disease.
The biggest jump was at Wonga Beach with 27 people treated for the virus, while cases were also reported in Daintree, Mossman, Miallo and Port Douglas.
Dr Steffen said there were still many unanswered questions about the cause of the Daintree ulcer, but last year's increase was primarily due to the prolonged wet season.
"It's still a bit mysterious," Dr Steffen said.
"Clearly there's some sort of territorial localised source and why it would be more common after the wet season may relate to the (increase of) insects."
The ulcer can begin as a small bite or scratch, but if untreated a lesion can grow and spread to other parts of the body.
It cannot be transmitted between people, but mosquitoes and other insects are believed to be responsible for spreading the virus to humans, with most cases occurring in the months following the wet season.
Dr Steffen said some sufferers claimed the ulcers came from bites from march flies, sand flies, mosquitoes and ticks, but the link had not yet been confirmed.
"There were a whole lot of march flies collected but none of them tested positive for it," she said.
"That's still the missing link."
Researchers are also investigating the role ringtail possums play as hosts of the disease.
There have been 10 reported cases of Daintree ulcers this year.
The Tropical Surgery Eclipse Meeting concludes today.
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