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Getting the buzz on mosquito-borne disease

Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) researchers have released an improved version of an online system available to public health officials to monitor outbreaks of the three main mosquito-borne diseases affecting Queenslanders; Ross River virus, Barmah Forest virus and dengue fever.

The VEDS (Vector-borne disease Early Detection and Surveillance) system, a joint Queensland Health and QIMR project, allows public health officials to monitor the number of confirmed cases of the mosquito-borne diseases within Local Government Areas in Queensland.

Dr Michelle Gatton, Head of QIMR’s Malaria Drug Resistance and Chemotherapy Laboratory, said the online system has proved a valuable tool for public health officials to easily identify disease activity which is higher than expected for a certain time of year.

“We have now added dengue fever to the monitoring, because there have been an increased number of imported cases into Queensland from returning travellers. Better understanding the prevalence and location of these cases is the key to its management,” Dr Gatton said.

“Because there is no specific treatment for Ross River virus disease, Barmah Forest virus disease or dengue fever, the best defence is to prevent mosquito bites and control the mosquito populations.”

”Providing a system which identifies increased disease occurrence allows public health officials to issue area-specific warnings to local residents to take extra precautions against mosquito bites and reduce household breeding sites.

Brisbane City Council has used the VEDS system to gain a better understanding of mosquito-borne disease in Queensland’s capital, said Council Medical Entomologist, Mike Muller.

“The system can help us in a timely way to measure the effectiveness of a particular program of mosquito control by monitoring the levels of mosquito-borne disease in the Brisbane area,” Mr Muller said.

“Following last year’s floods we were concerned about the prospect of increased mosquito populations and the health risks that come with them. VEDS allowed us to monitor levels of disease so we could determine whether targeted mosquito control or publicity programs were required. As it turned out, that didn’t happen in Brisbane.

“However, the levels of Ross River and Barmah Forest virus activity can vary greatly from year to year and does not always correlate with mosquito activity.

“We need to be very aware of what the viruses are doing as well as what is happening with our mosquito populations and VEDS is an exceptionally useful tool for us.”