Buruli ulcer affects thousands each year, with severe cases resulting in death or permanent disability. It starts as an ulcerated swelling before becoming an open wound as the infection develops. Eventually the skin around the wound starts to die. It is unknown how the water-borne disease is transmitted.
Bournemouth University researchers found that outbreaks of the disease can be triggered by changes in climate. The El Niño event, which drives rainfall off western South America was found to be particularly significant.
‘Understanding how infection levels respond to climatic factors is hugely important, particularly with poorly understood, emergent diseases such as Buruli ulcer,’ said lead investigator Aaron Morris. ‘These links help us shed light on their ecology and enable us to more accurately predict outbreaks. They are also vital in understanding how climate change will affect the dynamics and emergence of pathogens in the future.’
The research also examined how biodiversity can influence the spread of disease in humans. Researchers hope to use the study to predict future outbreaks in the region.