Mosquito-borne pathogens may catch new Queensland residents off-guard

Brad Buzzard 4 December 2017

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Newcomers to Queensland will need to adopt preventative measures.

Scientists have issued a stern warning to new and future residents of Northern Australia, as their new home may be placing them in the firing line of a host of mosquito-borne diseases.

The warning comes as the Australian Government is promoting the development of Northern Australia, and Queensland Treasury figures suggest the campaign is working. Northern locales like Cairns and Townsville are receiving among the highest rates of growth in QLD.

Viruses carried by mosquitos and other arthropods are known as arboviruses. Central Queensland University Professor Andrew Taylor-Robinson said there are more than 75 arboviruses that have been identified in Australia, including the potentially debilitating Ross River, Barmah Forest and Murray Valley encephalitis viruses.

“People relocating to the tropical north are likely to have had no previous exposure to these viruses and are thus relatively susceptible to infection compared to locals,” Professor Taylor-Robinson said in a statement.

Unsuspecting victims could end up with symptoms like fever, muscle/joint ache or general malaise. While Ross River, Barmah Forest and Murray Valley encephalitis can be tested for, many of the other viruses cannot. Therefore, the cause is not always obvious and infection often goes undiagnosed.

“These neglected arboviruses that are indigenous to Australia might have been infecting humans at a regular rate for decades, but we still know little about them,” Professor Taylor-Robinson said.

Long-time residents of Northern Queensland have lived side-by-side with these pathogens, and over time have learned to take preventative measures against them and the mosquitos that carry them.

With the right information, new residents can learn to protect themselves, too.

Postgraduate researcher Narayan Gyawali, under the supervision of Professor Taylor-Robinson, has presented research highlighting the need to inject more public health resources into better understanding the public health threats facing Northern Australia.

“Currently, there is a real gap in knowledge about arboviruses in Northern Australia, and this presents a real public health problem that needs urgent attention… In light of the projected future redispersal of the Australian population, there is a pressing need for public health campaigns to heighten awareness of what precautions can be taken by individuals,” Gyawali said.

A public information campaign will help Queensland newcomers learn how to take preventative measures to minimise the chances of contracting a mosquito-borne virus. Health insurance could also help with some extra piece of mind, and there are numerous local health insurance plans specific to Queensland residents.

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