You’ve got to look after yourself in the tropics, The climate that makes far north Queensland such an attractive place to live also makes it a great place for diseases and the creatures that carry them. Don’t worry – a few basic precautions will keep you safe – and we have world class experts researching and practising tropical medicine.
The main concern in FNQ these days is Dengue fever – a viral illness spread by mosquito bite. The disease is not endemic here, but one of the mosquitos that can carry it is present – Aedes Aegypti. Travellers arriving from Papua New Guinea or south-east Asia bring dengue back with them, the local mosquitos bite them and spread it around.
This wet season we’ve had 112 cases of Dengue in the Cairns region. There’s no cure, but prevention is very effective – repellent and keeping your property clear of potential mosquito breeding sites are critical. Read more about dengue in tropical Queensland here http://www.health.qld.gov.au/dengue/
There’s some great work being done here to reduce the risk of dengue from the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, and a very effective program to keep its much more dangerous relative – Aedes Albopictus – out of Australia. But Federal funding for that is about to run out and scientists are worried about the health risks if it doesn’t continue.
Aedes Aegypti is a tropical mosquito – and so the Dengue risk is confined to north Queensland. But Aedes Albopictus – also known as the Asian Tiger mosquito – can survive outside the tropics, in the more temperate zones of southern Australia. This, according to the experts, means that the area in which you could be bitten by a Dengue-infected mosquito could extend to Brisbane, and well into New South Wales or Victoria in the future. And Albopictus can also carry a nasty tropical disease called Chikungunya.
Currently, the Tropical Public Health Service in Cairns runs an Asian Tiger mosquito control program in the Torres Strait.The mozzies used to be found in significant numbers on Thursday and Horn islands, but are now rarely seen there. But one was found recently on a ship in Cairns, and they’re routinely present in near neighbours Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. If they get established on the Australian mainland, they will spread, and scientists tell us that will require major new control strategies at local, state and federal level.
Listen to Professor Scott Ritchie of James Cook University Cairns and Dr Greg Devine of the Tropical Public Health Service Cairns talk about the current program and make the case for it to continue.
Listen to Scott & Greg talk about the current Dengue outbreaks in Cairns and some the programs to control the spread of the disease.
Scott Ritchie is a member of the Aedes albopictus technical advisory committee and the National Arbovirus and Malaria Advisory Committee..
Greg Devine is Director of Medical Entomology with Tropical Public Health Services in Cairns.