1. How significant is dengue in Australia?
Dengue is an exotic disease in Australia, which means that dengue is not continuously transmitted in Australia. Outbreaks occur when international travellers sick with dengue bring the virus into areas of northern and far northern Queensland where Aedes aegypti mosquitoes live. When a local mosquito bites these people, dengue can be passed to other people in the area by the mosquito.
Australia has a history of dengue epidemics dating back to 1879, most of which occurred in Queensland. During the wet season of 2008-09, Australia’s worst dengue epidemic in over 50 years occurred in the Cairns and Townsville regions, with more than 1000 cases reported.
2. What does the research involve?
Our research projects involve the controlled release of mosquitoes with Wolbachia in residential areas. We do this either through adult mosquito releases, the placement of mosquito release containers or via community mosquito releases, using Mozzie Boxes. Each method releases mosquitoes that carry Wolbachia, which breed with local mosquitoes, passing Wolbachia to future generations.
Before, during and after releases, we use mosquito-monitoring traps to collect samples of mosquitoes from the areas where we are working. We place these traps on and around people’s properties where they generally collect a 10% sample of the mosquito population in the immediate area. We regularly collect mosquitoes from the traps and transfer them to our laboratory, where we test them to find out if they carry Wolbachia.
3. How is the Australian research regulated?
Before any mosquitoes with Wolbachia were released in Australia, the method underwent rigorous laboratory testing. Our trials then received regulatory approval from the Australian Government through the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA). The APVMA is responsible for the assessment, registration and regulation of pesticides and veterinary medicines, and it seek to protect the health and safety of people, animals, crops, the environment and trade. The APVMA thoroughly assess applications using the expertise of its scientific staff and the technical knowledge of other relevant scientific organisations and government departments.
4. Has the research been scientifically assessed?
We commissioned an independent risk assessment by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s national science agency, prior to applying for regulatory approval from the APVMA. The CSIRO’s final report concluded that our research method has negligible risk to people and the environment. This is the lowest possible rating from the CSIRO.
5. Where in Australia have you released mosquitoes?
We began releasing mosquitoes with Wolbachia in Townsville in October 2014 and we are gradually working our way across Townsville suburbs.
We have finished releasing mosquitoes in 18 inner Townsville suburbs, including some of the city’s highest-risk dengue areas.
Throughout 2016, we will complete a further 16 suburbs. Sign up to the Townsville research today.
Since January 2011 we have undertaken work in the communities of Gordonvale, Yorkeys Knob, Babinda, Machans Beach, Stratford, Manunda, Manoora, Mooroobool, Earlville, Woree and in areas of Edge Hill, Whitfield, Parramatta Park, Westcourt, Freshwater, Bungalow, Cairns North, Mt Sheridan and White Rock.
We hope to commence further releases in Cairns in late 2016.
The Eliminate Dengue Program is currently carrying out pre-release mosquito population monitoring activities in Charters Towers, with releases of mosquitoes with Wolbachia due to commence in September 2016.
6. Do communities support your project?
Since we began our work in Australia in 2011, we have received strong support from the community for our research, and all of our field trials have only gone ahead with community support and government approval.
We work closely with local communities to raise awareness of our research, and we appreciate the strong support we have received. We also work with a number of Community Reference Groups which verify that we are giving the community the opportunity to understand our research and voice any concerns.
7. How can I participate in a project?
There are a number of ways communities are being asked to participate in our work. Sometimes we ask individual residents to host mosquito traps on their property. Sometimes we ask whole communities to take the lead by growing and releasing with own mosquitoes with Wolbachia.
Click here to find out if your area is involved in community mosquito releases.
Participation in our projects is voluntary. If you do not want to participate, you can contact us to let us know.
For the Eliminate Dengue Program’s FAQs, click here.