Exotic mosquitoes a clear and present Zika and dengue danger for Australians

Australia may be at risk of a widespread outbreak of Zika or dengue unless more is done to prevent the establishment of exotic mosquitoes that can carry these diseases in the country, according to a paper published today in the Sax Institute’s Public Health Research & Practice journal.

“While we can’t prevent people infected with Zika or dengue coming to Australia, we can prevent the establishment of exotic mosquitoes species (such as Aedes aegypti and the Asian tiger mosquito Aedes albopictus), so that widespread outbreaks can’t occur,” said lead author Dr Cameron Webb, Medical Entomologist at Sydney University and for NSW Health Pathology.

“We need to do more to make sure these exotic mosquitoes don’t establish themselves here.

“With many Australians travelling back and forth to South East Asia, particularly Bali, during the holidays there is a risk they will be exposed to mosquito-borne diseases. Worse still, it is very easy for people to unwittingly bring exotic mosquito eggs back into Australia via water bottles, vases or other belongings.

“If these exotic mosquito species find a way to our suburbs and become established, it creates the perfect conditions for a local outbreak of Zika or dengue.

“We need to do everything possible to prevent these mosquitoes from establishing themselves here in NSW and other parts of Australia. We need to expand strategic surveillance to include suburban areas as well as wetlands, so that we’re alerted as soon as possible to their presence. With local, State and Federal health authorities working closer together to respond to the discovery of these mosquitoes, we can ensure we remain free of any significant local disease outbreaks.”

Dr Webb has also investigated the safe and effective use of mosquito repellents in another Public Health Research & Practice paper, and recommended Australians at home and abroad should choose a repellent containing DEET, picaridin or ‘oil of lemon-eucalyptus’ rather than botanical extract-based repellents.

“With mosquito season beginning across most of the country and with many Australians planning to visit South East Asia during the holiday season, it’s essential that everyone knows the best ways to prevent mosquito bites. Repellents are a cheap, effective and safe ways to yourself, but you’ve got to choose and use the repellents properly to provide effective protection.

“Unless you are prepared to reapply every one to two hours, it’s safer to avoid botanical extract-based repellents available from health food stores, tackle shops and the ‘homebrews’ available from local markets. Despite the name, natural repellents are not necessarily a healthy alternative – not only do they not last as long, they’re more likely to cause skin irritation than chemical-based brands.

“Australians at home and abroad should instead choose a repellent containing DEET, picaridin or ‘oil of lemon-eucalyptus’. There are hundreds of different formulations to choose from in the supermarket or the pharmacy that will keep you and your family safe,” said Dr Webb.

The latest issue of the Sax Institute’s Public Health Research & Practice journal has a focus on emerging infectious diseases and their impact on public health, an issue that is of the utmost importance according to Guest Editor Dr Jeremy McAnulty, Director of Health Protection NSW.

“The unpredictability of infectious diseases means they are always challenging for health agencies and governments to manage, but it’s important that we are as prepared as possible to prevent and control outbreaks as new diseases emerge, and others re-emerge, across the globe,” Dr McAnulty said.

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