Scientists from the University of Surrey have made an important breakthrough in the fight againstthe flesh-eating tropical skin disease Buruli ulcer.

The team has discovered that the bacteria causes a blood clot in patients’ skin, similar to those that cause deep vein thrombosis (DVT). The new findings mean that, like DVT, the clots may respond to anticoagulant medicines and heal more quickly with fewer side effects than with antibiotics alone. Team members hope that the discovery will accelerate the development of a cure for this chronic debilitating disease which affects poor communities in West Africa and can lead to permanent disfigurement and disability.

The World Health Organization considers Buruli ulcer to be an emerging threat to public health. Lead author of the study, Dr Rachel Simmonds from the University of Surrey, said:“This is a huge breakthrough in our understanding of the disease. “Buruli ulcer is an emerging tropical disease, which is caused by infection with Mycobacterium ulcerans, an organism which belongs to the family of bacteria that causes tuberculosis and leprosy. Around 5,000 cases are recorded each year, the majority in poor rural communities in West Africa, Australia and Southeast Asia where the infection is thought to occur when people bath in slow running water. “While antibiotics are currently used to treat Buruli ulcer, they take a long time to work and few people with the disease can afford to pay for extended stays in hospital. The ulcers are often painless, and as a result, early signs of infection are ignored, or thought to be a ‘curse’.

Infected people, often children, are treated by traditional healers rather than modern medicine. “We hope our research will now enable better treatment combinations that will reduce the lifetime deformity patients have to bear.” In a separate piece of work, researchers from the University of Surrey and Lund University in Sweden investigated how frequent, long- distance travel is represented in mass and social media in a way that can ignore the health effects. They found that the images portrayed do not take into account the damaging side effects of frequent travel such as jet-lag, deep vein thrombosis, radiation exposure, stress, loneliness and distance from community and family networks.

Lead author Dr Scott Cohen, from the University of Surrey, said:“A man in a sharp suit, reclining in a leather chair, laptop open in front of him, a smiley stewardess serving a scotch and soda. This is often the image of travel, particularly business travel portrayed in TV ads and glossy magazines. But there is a dark side to this ‘glamorised’ hypermobile lifestyle that the media, and society ignores., “The level of physiological, physical and societal stress that frequent travels places upon individuals has potentially serious and long-term negative effects that range from the breaking down of family relationships, to changes in our genes due to lack of sleep. “It is not only traditional media that perpetuates this image. Social media encourages competition between travellers to ‘check-in’ and share content from far-flung destinations. The reality is that most people who are required to engage in frequent travel suffer high levels of stress, loneliness and long-term health problems. There are also wider implications for the environment and sustainability. In this context, hypermobility seems far from glamourous.”