The dreaded Asian Tiger Mosquito has made its way to Australia – safely housed deep in the high security confines of QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute’s new quarantine facilities.
The colony of eggs, larvae and adults is kept caged behind six time-locked doors in the largest quarantine-approved mosquito insectary in the country.
Associate Professor Greg Devine, head of the Mosquito Control Laboratory, said this was Australia’s only mainland colony of Aedes albopictus.
“This is the most invasive mosquito in the world, found on every continent except Antarctica,” Associate Professor Devine said.
“It is already in the Torres Strait and it will undoubtedly arrive on the Australian mainland in due course.
“Having a colony to study is a question of knowing your enemy, and understanding as much as we can about the challenge we’re facing.”
The Asian Tiger Mosquito can carry chikungunya virus – a debilitating disease that has recently swept through Papua New Guinea and which is common in south-east Asia. Chikungunya has recently emerged in some Pacific islands and the Caribbean.
There is no treatment and no cure for chikungunya. The only way to control it is to tackle the mosquitoes that carry it.
“The Asian Tiger Mosquito presents a number of threats to Australia,” Associate Professor Devine said.
“Firstly, it’s a good transmitter of both dengue and chikungunya so it will complicate dengue control operations in North Queensland which currently only focus on just one of our native mosquitoes: Aedes aegypti.
“Secondly, Aedes albopictus is very adaptable and is likely to spread to all major population centres in Australia. That means that it will bring the threat of dengue and chikungunya transmission to cities like Brisbane and Sydney.
“But the greatest impact of an Aedes albopictus invasion may be on our lifestyles. Asian Tiger Mosquitoes are extremely aggressive biters that thrive in and around people’s homes. They bite throughout the day and, in some places, they bite unprotected humans dozens of times per minute. We’re talking about a constant, painful nuisance which would ruin our outdoor lifestyle.
“It’s come to be known as the The Barbecue Stopper, and for good reason.”
QIMR Berghofer researchers will study how the Asian Tiger Mosquitoes compete with other mosquitoes, and whether they will ultimately displace native, less threatening mosquito species.
The team is also working with Queensland councils, economists in the US, and the CSIRO to gauge the potential costs of the mosquitoes becoming established on the Australian mainland.
The colony will also be made available to visiting researchers, including collaborators at the University of Queensland.
ABOUT CHIKUNGUNYA: Chikungunya is an African word meaning “that which bends up” and describes the posture of people suffering from the disease, curled up in pain. There is no vaccine, cure, or specific treatment. It is caused by a virus similar to Ross River and Barmah Forest, and is carried by the Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictus). These viruses all belong to the alphavirus family and cause arthritis that can last for months.