Anticipating infectious threats to Australia

What are the human, agricultural, wildlife and entomological infectious disease threats to Australia? To answer this questions, the University of Sydney’s Marie Bashir Institute of Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity co-ordinated a “collective brainstorm” session to map out the way forward in assessing and address these future risks.

Moderated by Professor Eddie Holmes, the session included “five top leaders in their respective fields” to provide an overview and discuss recent advances, as well as determining the key challenges with discussion amongst attendees. A fascinating collection of topics and I was fortunate enough to be invited to contribute my knowledge on mosquito-borne disease threats in the Australia region.

Professor Jon Iredell spoke about the development of antibiotic resistance in human pathogens. Most interestingly, he touched on the role humans play in exposing our environment and wildlife to these antibiotics and the resulting impacts on the broader community. Although the issue of antibiotics hasn’t touched my work directly, I’m aware of this issue in relation to the role of constructed wetlands associated with agricultural and urban wastewater facilities. Notwithstanding the direct human health issues, interaction with wildlife may have implications for emerging zoonotic pathogens.

Professor Robert Park spoke about agricultural disease. A fascinating presentation on a topic I wasn’t familiar with but was surprised as to the relevance to exotic vector-borne pathogens. Robert spoke about the Australian Cereal Rust Control Program and how it plays an important role in monitoring the incursions of this fungi.

Dr Karrie Rose spoke about wildlife disease and highlighted some of the issues surrounding the investigation of outbreaks where the environmental, agricultural or human health issues may not be clear from the outset. Additional issues surround the diagnosis of these pathogens and determining the authorities responsible for the outbreak. Karie is the manager of the Australian Registry of Wildlife Health, a program of Taronga Conservation Society Australia and provided a great overview of the diverse nature of zoonotic pathogens, from Chytrid fungus to orbivirus, local authorities must deal with.

Monitoring mosquitoes and the pathogens they're carrying will remain critical in assisting the assessment and management of public health risks in Australia

Monitoring mosquitoes and the pathogens they’re carrying will remain critical in assisting the assessment and management of public health risks in Australia

I spoke about the endemic and exotic mosquito-borne disease threats to Australia, from Ross River virus to dengue. My presentation highlighted issues surrounding globalisation, urbanisation and a changing climate with particular emphasis on the potential introduction of the Asian Tiger Mosquito to mainland Australia and the recent increase in Australian travellers returning home with dengue and chikungunya virus infections. Analysis by WA Health authorities have highlighted the increased risk associated with travel to Bali in recent years. There have also been cases of “airport” or “baggage” dengue, including the first locally acquired cases of dengue in WA for over 70 years as well as a case of infection under similar circumstances near Darwin. The Darwin case was also reported in this PLOS NTD paper. At a time when FNQ is experiencing multiple outbreaks of dengue, there seems to be ever increasing opportunities for the pathogens and vectors to be entering mainland Australia.

You can catch up on the slides from my presentation below:

and a collection of tweets from the session collated by @MarieBashirInst is here.

[The photo at the top of this post is taken from the CDC]