Buruli ulcer (BU), a neglected tropical disease of the skin, caused by Mycobacterium ulcerans, occurs most frequently in children in West Africa. Risk factors for BU include proximity to slow flowing water, poor wound care and not wearing protective clothing. Man-made alterations of the environment have been suggested to lead to increased BU incidence. M. ulcerans DNA has been detected in the environment, water bugs and recently also in mosquitoes. Despite these findings, the mode of transmission of BU remains poorly understood and both transmission by insects or direct inoculation from contaminated environment have been suggested. Here, we investigated the BU epidemiology in the Mapé basin of Cameroon where the damming of the Mapé River since 1988 is believed to have increased the incidence of BU. Through a house-by-house survey in spring 2010, which also examined the local population for leprosy and yaws, and continued surveillance thereafter, we identified, till June 2012, altogether 88 RT-PCR positive cases of BU. We found that the age adjusted cumulative incidence of BU was highest in young teenagers and in individuals above the age of 50 and that very young children (<5) were underrepresented among cases. BU lesions clustered around the ankles and at the back of the elbows. This pattern neither matches any of the published mosquito biting site patterns, nor the published distribution of small skin injuries in children, where lesions on the knees are much more frequent. The option of multiple modes of transmission should thus be considered. Analyzing the geographic distribution of cases in the Mapé Dam area revealed a closer association with the Mbam River than with the artificial lake.
Buruli ulcer (BU) is an infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium ulcerans that is affecting mostly children in endemic areas of West Africa. Proximity to slow flowing water is a risk factor, but the exact mode of transmission of BU remains unclear. Man-made environmental changes, such as sand mining, damming of rivers and irrigation have been implicated with increases in disease incidence. Here, we report findings from a survey for BU and continued case detection thereafter in the Bankim Health District of Cameroon. In this area, the local population believed that the damming of the Mapé River has led to the emergence of BU. In 28 months we identified 88 laboratory confirmed cases of BU. Studying these cases, we found that the age adjusted cumulative incidence of BU in the elderly is similar to that in children and that the distribution pattern of BU lesions neither matches mosquito biting patterns nor the distribution of small skin injuries. Multiple modes of transmission should therefore be considered. Our data further showed that the patients appear to have closer contact to the local Mbam River than to the artificial Mapé dam reservoir.