Mosquito buzz highlights the risk of vector-borne diseases

Commenting on One Health Day 2021 Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Mark Schipp highlighted the importance of our disease surveillance and preparedness activities as vital to protecting people and animals from vector-borne diseases – those diseases spread by biting insects such as mosquitoes, biting midges (sandflies), ticks and fleas.

Dr Schipp said vector-borne diseases highlighted the important reality of the One Health concept, how the health of people, animals and our shared environment is interconnected.

“Examples of vector-borne diseases include Japanese encephalitis, a rare but serious infection of the brain which is spread by mosquitoes; and canine ehrlichiosis, a potentially fatal disease of dogs, caused by the bacterium Ehrlichia canis which is spread by brown dog ticks,” Dr Schipp said.

“The occurrence and distribution of disease vectors is affected by environmental weather conditions, and with climate change contributing to warming temperatures, there is a risk that the abundance of these mosquitoes, midges, ticks and fleas may increase.

“The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment undertakes a range of surveillance and preparedness activities to protect people and animals from vector-borne diseases.” 

The Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (NAQS) conducts surveillance for mosquito-borne diseases such as Japanese encephalitis in the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area of Cape York, Queensland, and in the Tiwi Islands and Northern Territory, during the monsoonal season.  

In collaboration with public health agencies in Queensland and the Northern Territory, the surveillance involves mosquito trapping and serological testing of samples from domestic and feral animals. 

The department undertakes vector monitoring and surveillance activities at over 85 first point of entry locations across Australia, checking up to 1000 individual monitoring sites each week. The program aims to detect exotic mosquitoes that may inadvertently arrive on international conveyances or cargo.  

Each year, the vector monitoring program collects and identifies over 350,000 mosquito specimens and responds to an average of 23 exotic mosquito detections at the border.

When an exotic mosquito is detected, the department works in collaboration with local health agencies to conduct response activities including insecticide treatments and enhanced surveillance activities.

Projects are also underway across northern Australia to address concerns about the potential transmission of tick-borne diseases, including Ehrlichia canis, in remote communities.

The Department is funding canine ehrlichiosis management programs in northern Australia, with a focus on community engagement and research collaboration prioritising animal management and animal welfare.

“A panel of experts in entomology, vector-borne disease and simulation modelling has been formed to advise on innovative ways to predict and mitigate the risk of vector-borne animal disease now and into the future,” Dr Schipp said.

“This collaborative One Health approach involving public health, animal health and environmental health professionals is vital to tackling vector-borne diseases, bringing together expertise to prevent and manage these diseases.”

For more information about One Health visit: One Health – OIE – World Organisation for Animal Health

One Health Day highlights diseases

  • November 3, 2021, marks the sixth annual One Health Day, a global campaign that celebrates and brings attention to the need for a One Health approach to address shared health threats at the human-animal-environment interface.
  • Australia’s disease surveillance and preparedness activities are vital to protecting people and animals from vector-borne diseases – those diseases spread by biting insects such as mosquitoes, midges, ticks and fleas.
  • Examples of vector-borne diseases include Japanese encephalitis which affects people and is spread by mosquitoes; and canine ehrlichiosis, a potentially fatal disease of dogs, spread by brown dog ticks.
  • New biosecurity funding announced in the May 2021 budget, supports projects from 2021-25 that aim to enhance Australia’s ability to predict and mitigate the risks associated with vector-borne animal diseases.

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