Tourist contracts flesh-eating disease, loses hand while holidaying in Australia

The woman's extended trip to visit her daughter who recently moved to Melbourne has mysteriously taken a very dark turn.

Carmel Rodrigo lying in a hospital bed with tubes attached to her nose and mouth (right). She smiles with her daughter  Gayathri Perera while the pair were sightseeing in Australia (right).
Carmel Rodrigo, 74, was visiting her daughter Gayathri Perera in Melbourne when she began to feel shooting pain in her left arm. Source: Supplied

The mum of a woman who has recently moved to Australia is currently fighting for her life in hospital after mysteriously contracting a flesh-eating disease, with doctors forced to sedate her in attempt to manage her "insufferable pain" as they race to treat her.

Carmel Rodrigo, 74, travelled to Melbourne at the start of the year to visit her daughter Gayathri Perera and her young family who had recently immigrated from Sri Lanka. After enjoying months of sightseeing and family time, Carmel began to go "delirious" one night last month.

"She was screaming with pain and her hand was all swollen, going slightly blue," Gayathri told Yahoo News. After rushing her mum to the emergency room where the pair had to wait for several hours, Carmel started to lose the feeling in her arm and her daughter feared she was becoming paralysed.

"The doctors said it was an infection but they couldn't recognise which kind, the spread was really fast.

"I was told to pray because she only had a 10 per cent chance of survival."

Carmel managed to pull through and her daughter was finally given an answer to what was going on — her mum had contracted the "deadly" Buruli ulcer, more commonly known as the "flesh-eating" disease.

Carmel's left hand has since been amputated and she has been sedated in hospital for the last three weeks after doctors explained her pain would be "unbearable" if she were awake.

The disease, which inflicts damage to the skin and soft tissue, is spread by mosquitos as well as other animals, and has been previously detected in several Australian states.

Carmel's left hand swelling in the car (left). Carmel sitting on a low bench outside a church (right).
Carmel's hand began to swell and turn blue. It has since been amputated. Source: Supplied

According to Victoria's Department of Health, while the infection can't be spread from humans to humans, "there is increasing evidence that mosquitoes and possums have a role in transmitting the infection".

The number of cases in the state can vary widely from year to year, but numbers have been increasing to between 200 and 340 cases per year since 2017, the health department says online.

Doctors told Gayathri the disease is capable of "killing people within 24 hours" if left untreated.

According to Health Direct, those who work outside and have contact with soil are more susceptible to the infection. Although exactly how Carmel contracted the bug remains a mystery.

"She didn't even do gardening or anything, just nothing. She was chilling on her holiday," Gayathri said.

Now all she can do is wait and hope her mum gets better, with doctors saying it will "take time", with the usual antibiotics used as treatment for the disease not being effective.

"I live here alone with my husband and my children. I don't have any other family here. We just moved here, so even doctors think that it's really good for her to, you know, go back to where she was."

Gayathri said her life in Australia has been a "rollercoaster" so far, with the cost of her mum's medical bills now putting financial stress on her family. She created a GoFundMe page in hope she can raise some money to put toward getting her mum better. It is unclear how long she will likely remain in hospital.

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