Published in TEN Eyewitness News on December 15, 2016
Australian travellers are at risk of bringing the Zika virus and dengue fever into the country when they return from overseas, researchers warn, by unwittingly bringing back the eggs of exotic mosquito species.
People who travel to Southeast Asia during the holiday season, particularly Bali, are especially vulnerable.
Zika infections exploded in South America earlier in the year, with world health authorities fearing a global pandemic. The virus is primarily contracted through mosquito bites, but can also be sexually transmittable up to six months after initial infection.
Particularly worrying, Zika has been linked to horrific birth defects, including microcephaly, if pregnant mothers are infected.
“If these exotic mosquito species find a way to our suburbs and become established, it creates the perfect conditions for a local outbreak of Zika or dengue,” Dr Cameron Webb, Medical Entomologist at University of Sydney and NSW Health Pathology, said.
“While we can’t prevent people infected with Zika or dengue coming to Australia, we can prevent the establishment of exotic mosquitoes species, so that widespread outbreaks can’t occur.”
Dr Webb, lead author of the Sax Institute’s Public Health Research & Practice journal, published Wednesday, said that we need to be more mindful of what we bring home from our holidays.
“It is very easy for people to unwittingly bring exotic mosquito eggs back into Australia via water bottles, vases or other belongings,” he said.
Some of the species that could carry potentially deadly viruses are the Aedes aegypti, the ‘yellow fever’ mosquito, and the Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus.
Dr Webb says that while repellents are generally a cheap and effective way to protect yourself, you need to choose the right ones.
“Unless you are prepared to reapply every one to two hours, it’s safer to avoid botanical extract-based repellents available from health food stores, tackle shops and the ‘homebrews’ available from local markets,” he said.
“Australians at home and abroad should instead choose a repellent containing DEET, picaridin or ‘oil of lemon-eucalyptus’. There are hundreds of different formulations to choose from in the supermarket or the pharmacy that will keep you and your family safe.”
Dr Webb says that communities and health authorities need to be monitoring suburban areas as well as wetlands, because these deadly mosquitoes can survive under both conditions.