Mosquitos Carrying Dengue Fever Could Reach Inland Australia
A new global study predicts dengue fever illness could spread to inland parts of Australia, as the illness returns to Central Queensland.
Local authorities have identified three confirmed cases and five probable cases in Rockhampton over the last fortnight, in a rare outbreak of the mosquito-borne disease.
The first locally-acquired case in decades was recorded on May 24 and prompted a "full outbreak response" from Queensland Health to protect the community from any other infected mosquitoes.
Now, researchers predict the dengue fever risk zone -- which has become limited to central and far north Queensland -- could reach inland Australia by 2050.
According to the global study, published in the Nature journal on Wednesday, much of southeastern America and coastal areas of China and Japan are also at risk.
Melbourne University disease modeller Dr Nick Golding, who helped with the study, said warmer temperatures are more conducive to the disease-carrying mosquito, while population growth and changing socio-economic conditions could also increase the spread.
"In Australia, we already have the main mosquito species (Aedes aegypti) that carries the disease and we're already developed," he told 10 daily.
While we will see some population growth, the main reason we're seeing these predictions here is because it's getting hotter.
Dengue fever is similar to a serious case of the flu, and typically includes symptoms like rash, fever, headache, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain.
It can only be transmitted by mosquitoes, which thrive in tropical and sub-tropical areas. There is no vaccine or specific medicine to treat the illness, but most people recover in about a week.
Hundreds of millions of people are infected with dengue fever each year, with the last significant Australian outbreak in Cairns dating back to 2009.
More than 900 people were infected with the disease, and there have only been isolated cases reported in the past decade -- but this is expected to rise.
Globally, the study estimated more than two billion additional people could be at risk in 2080 compared to 2015, based on current climate projections.
The greatest shifts in dengue risk are predicted to occur in Africa, while the study's predictions were lower in Europe compared to previous studies.
"In Australia, we already knew there was potential for dengue to spread in the north of the country, but we think the border where it is possible for transmission to occur will shift south, particularly inland," Golding said.
"We are not saying there is going to be lots of dengue transmitted; we are seeing there is a great risk this could occur."
Researchers called on authorities in at-risk areas to be prepared to respond to outbreaks.
This is the case in Rockhampton, where local authorities have been door-knocking and putting mosquito control measures in place to limit the current spread.
"There is no need for residents to panic, but it is very important that home owners right across Rockhampton take every measure to keep their yards free of stagnant water to prevent the breeding of mosquitoes," Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service's Environmental Health Services Manager Paul Florian said in a statement on May 31.
A spokeswoman for Queensland Health confirmed to 10 daily on Wednesday there have been no new confirmed cases since the statement was released.
At the time, Florian urged anyone with symptoms to see their GP immediately to discuss their need for a dengue fever test.
More information on dengue fever is available online.
Featured image: Getty