How Australia Is Stopping Dengue-Infected Mosquitoes Spreading

14/10/2015 3:32 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
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Aedes mosquito sucking blood

Mosquito bites are a harmless part of summer for most Australians, but head to the northern tip of Queensland or further into Asia-Pacific and they become feared carriers of dengue fever and malaria.

Australia's safeguards against mosquito-borne diseases are an astounding, ongoing program spanning ports and airports in all states and territories that involve trapping, testing and, surprisingly, chickens.

The system snapped into action this month when two mozzie larvae were found in traps near Darwin's airport.

While harmless mozzies live in the Northern Territory, these two larvae were the aedes aegypti species, which are capable of carrying dengue.

Nicknamed break bone fever, dengue is a virus that causes severe pain, fever and a rash, with no known cure so patients have to push through it -- which usually lasts one or two weeks.

Centre for Disease Control acting Director Medical Entomology Alexander Roberts said the larvae triggered a response including increased trapping and field studies.

“The Commonwealth Department of Agriculture and Water Resources also treat potential breeding sites to ensure that it does not establish at the airport,” Roberts said.

Roberts said exotic mosquitoes were detected at Darwin’s international sea or air ports three or four times each year, but they never settled.

In the warm climes of Queensland, it's a different story.

James Cook University Cairns Clinical School head John McBride said dengue-carrying aedes aegypti mosquitoes were too well established to eradicate permanently so they instead look out for the virus.


"We look out for travellers with a fever who might be carrying Dengue. Flights come in to Queensland from Bali, New Guinea, Timor, and once they're bitten by the aedes aegypti, that can then spread," McBride said.

"They mostly stay where it's warmer but their distribution has in the past stretched as far south as Gosford -- so almost to Sydney.

"If the predicted two-degree rise in temperature from global warming eventuates, aedes aegypti could colonise a larger area."

Across Australia, there is a slightly more unusual program used to detect other mosquito-borne diseases: the national Sentinel Chicken Surveillance Program.

These flocks of chickens are regularly tested for viruses that don't affect them, but are harmful to humans, like Murray Valley encephalitis and the Ross River viruses. If they test positive, extra precautions will be put in place.

So this summer, as a mozzie flys by, feel good about Australia's safeguards, but keep in mind the best way to avoid mosquito-borne viruses is still to avoid mosquito bites.

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