Flesh eating disease has killed three

From the NorthernTerritory News, 2 March 2007, By FLORA LIVERIS.

THREE people have died after contracting a rare flesh-eating disease in the Territory.

 Two of them were tourists who became ill after fishing near Borroloola in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The third was a 19-year-old local girl who had been swimming in a coastal tidal creek.

All three had other health problems.

The disease, necrotising fasciitis, is contracted through marine bacteria, which gets in through cuts in the skin and poisons the blood stream.

Survivors often have to have limbs amputated.

Menzies School of Health Research professor Bart Currie announced yesterday an investigation into what caused the vibrio bacteria to proliferate near Borroloola.

The world’s biggest lead and zinc mine is close to the township.

Professor Currie said the mine and the infections were not linked.

“It is a metal rich area and there are in the environment naturally high levels of metal,” he said.

McArthur River Mining also dismissed suggestions that the operation was responsible for the bacteria.

“The vibrio is a naturally occurring organism,” general manager Brian Hearne said.

“No one knows what is causing the unusual rate of infections in this region.

“But we do know categorically there is no evidence of heavy metal pollution by the mine.”

The deaths occurred between July 2000 an October 2005.

Northern Land Council chief executive Norman Fry said the failure to warn residents in the region of the bacteria was an “absolute disgrace”.

The NT Government’s chief health officer Tarun Weeramanthri said flyers had been put up in Borroloola.

“We have to tell people what the risk is and what precautions they should take without giving a message that no one should go fishing or launch their boats and get their feet wet,” he said.

An article published in a medical journal linked high levels of zinc in the McArthur River and an increase in the flesh-eating bacteria.

The first case to be recorded in the Territory was in 1988 in Darwin.


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