The five best non-buggy things about Entomology 2014

portland_oldtownThere was lots of love about Entomology 2014 but some of the biggest highlights had nothing to do with the bugs. Here are some non-entomological hits from the conference.

1. Portland, OR.

Host city makes a difference. I know many considerations are taken into account when deciding on a venue but an interesting host city (or region) can really tip the scales. Portland was a great decision. One of the great things about Portland was that it provided many conversation starters. Tips on where to find the best coffee, craft beer and donuts dominated plenty of on- and offline conversations during the course of the meeting (plus a few “field trips” thrown in for good measure).

I’ve seen interesting/new locations boost the numbers of conference attendees for the Australian Entomological Society and Mosquito Control Association of Australia in recent years too.

bluestardonuts2. Free public transport

Brilliant. With the meeting attracting over 3,000 people, it wasn’t possible to hold the event at a single venue that also provided accommodation for the bulk of attendees. As everyone was spread out across the city, getting back and forth from the Oregon Convention Center could have been quite tricky. Portland has a great public transport network but, better still, conference registrants received a free pass for travel throughout the course of the meeting! It certainly took the stress out of getting around.

sizzlepie3. Promotion of social media

The Entomological Society of America really needs to be congratulated on the way they’re employed social media as a critical component of their scientific conferences. I’ve been to conferences where social media has been tolerated but rarely encouraged. At this meeting, social media use was integrated into the day-to-day conference experience.

There was promotion of #EntSoc14 before, during and after the meeting. From the registration website to the opening address by David Gammel, social media was embraced and encouraged. Probably the best element was the use of a series of large screens throughout the conference center with a cascade of twitter and instagram posts. There was even a large display in the trade hall! Wonderful idea because it brought the “non-tweeting” conference attendees into the mix. I had a few a few conversations with people who don’t use social media but tracked me down because they’d seen tweets on the screen earlier in the meeting.

tweetscreen

An example of the “social media screens” dotted throughout the conference venue (Source: Christie Bahlai ‏@cbahlai)

Having an opportunity to meet in real life many of the wonderful people I’d only ever corresponded with via social media was one fo the highlights of the conference.

I was tempted to post something about tweeting at conference but there are already a bunch of great resources on the use of social media during conferences. Here are just a few “How to live-tweet a conference: A guide for conference organizers and twitter users“, “A Guide to Tweeting at Scientific Meetings for Social Media Veterans” and “Ten Simple Rules of Live Tweeting at Scientific Conferences“.

Here are the key slides (plus a bonus) from my conference presentation on the use of social media to extend the reach of public health messages:

4. Free WiFi

Whether we like it or not, we’re tethered to work. I learned a valuable lesson this year when I took myself “off the grid” for a few weeks during a holiday break. It took me the best part of a month to catch up. Being able to regularly check in with work emails during a conference (without having to pay exorbitant access rates) really helps. It is also handy chasing up papers referenced in presentations and other resources shared throughout the conference.

I know it is no fun seeing a conference room full of people checking email during someone’s presentation and I personally don’t do it myself. However, there were plenty of places and spaces to sit down and do that outside the presentation rooms.

5. A sustainable conference venue

I know this isn’t always possible but having a conference venue that put a high priority on sustainability was great. From recycling of coffee cups to stormwater runoff, most of the bases were covered. Nice for me, given my interest in constructed wetlands and stormwater management, to see the systems in place at the Oregon Conference Center.

Oregonconvention_urbanstormwaterTo some, these may seem like trivial aspects of a major scientific conference but they really made for a great experience at Entomology 2014 for me.

What do you love (or loathe) about scientific conferences (beyond the science itself)? Join the conversation on Twitter.

Entomology 2014: Portland, Oregon

Portland Oregon Retains Its "Weird" TitlePortland isn’t going to get any less “weird” when 3000 entomologists hit town! I’m going to be one of them there talking tweets and tweaking public health messages.

This month I’m heading along to the Entomology 2014: The Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of America, 16-19 November in Portland, Oregon.

This will be the first time I’ve attended an ESA meeting and I’m really looking forward to it. These are large meetings with thousands of delegates, a big change from our recent Mosquito Control Association of Australia conference that attracted about 150 attendees! There is little doubt that I’ll be kept busy getting along to just a fraction of presentations I’m interested in. You can check the program yourself here.

A couple of interesting things I’m looking forward to (notwithstanding the coffee, record shopping and doughnuts) is the workshop on scientific writing, How not to write like a scientist, and a session on the role (or perhaps lack of a role) arthropods play in Ebola virus transmission. I’ve written about why mosquitoes don’t spread Ebola here.

I’ll be giving a couple of presentations, one on the role of mosquito repellents in managing mosquito-borne disease risk and another on the use of social media to promote public health messages. Both of these invited presentations are sure to be fun. It will be nice to catch up with some old friends during the repellent symposium. I recently contributed a book chapter to the new handbook on insect repellents edited by the session organizer/moderator Mustapha Debboun (alongside Dan Strickman and Steve Francis).  the symposium.The social media session will be fun too and, apart from sharing my experiences in using social media to promote public health messages, it will be great to catch up with many wonderful people who’ve made my experience on Twitter in recent years so rewarding.

My PhD student, David Lilly, will also be speaking on his work studying insecticide resistance in bed bugs. The abstracts for all these presentations are below but please note that due to the nature of some symposium, not abstracts are included on the Entomology 2014 online program.

Aedes aegypti

A researcher at Rockefeller University feeds her stock of yellow fever mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti). This approach remains one of the most effective ways to test new mosquito repellents. (Photo: Alex Wild)

1. Finding a place for mosquito repellents in mosquito-borne disease management: An Australian perspective

Webb CE

Mosquito-borne disease is a growing concern for local authorities in Australia. While broad scale mosquito control programs reduce nuisance-biting impacts in some instances, in most regions where mosquito-borne pathogens, particularly Ross River virus, pose a public health risk, local authorities rely on the promotion of personal protection measures. A key component of such strategies is the use of topical insect repellents. There is little evidence that confirms their effectiveness in preventing disease. However, many studies have indicated that the correct use of topical repellents can protect against biting mosquitoes. As a result, it is likely that the promotion of topical insect repellents will remain a critical component of personal protection measures. If they’re here to stay, health authorities must ensure the public is aware of how to effectively choose and use repellents. Currently, there is a disjointed approach to repellent advice provided by state and local authorities. What is needed is a national approach that sets the framework for

The Challenges and Significant Contributions of Insect Repellents to Vector Control

Sunday, November 16, 2014: 8:00 AM-12:00 PM
B115-116 (Oregon Convention Center)


 

The global resurgence in bed bugs has been attributed to increased international travel and a shift in household insecticide use but perhaps it is resistance that is driving the increasing pest impacts? (Photo: Steve Doggett)

The global resurgence in bed bugs has been attributed to increased international travel and a shift in household insecticide use but perhaps it is resistance that is driving the increasing pest impacts? (Photo: Steve Doggett)

2. The importance of methodology and strain selection when determining efficacy of insecticides against bed bugs

Lilly D, Webb CE and Doggett SL

Selection of an appropriate bioassay technique and insect strain(s) are known to be important factors when attempting to accurately detect and monitor for insecticide resistance or define the efficacy of an insecticide. Recent studies with both susceptible and resistant strains of the common bed bug, Cimex lectularius, have indicated these principles similarly apply to bed bugs and must be considered prior to undertaking diagnostic bioassays. Age, access to a blood meal, and the period since repletion may all influence the outcomes of bioassays with bed bugs. Dry residual deposits of insecticides, in particular those of neonicotinoids, also have the potential to overestimate resistance ratios or provide a false negative indication of efficacy when viewed in comparison to more applicable topical or wet residual exposure methods. Resistance monitoring of Australian field strains has also revealed that a wide spectrum in the magnitude of resistance can exist between strains that express identical resistance mechanisms, and that laboratory strains held in culture for long periods of time may lose resistance or change resistant genotypic frequencies. When factored in to the proliferation of field strains with various combinations of multiple and/or cross resistance mechanisms, this clearly presents a challenge to product manufacturers, registration bodies, and pest managers as to how they can ensure the experimental methodology and strain selected is most appropriate for the desired purpose or outcome. The results of laboratory investigations to provide informed guidance on recommended ‘best practise’ bioassays with bed bugs will be presented.

Graduate Student Ten-Minute Paper Competition: MUVE

Monday, November 17, 2014: 9:48 AM
B117-119 (Oregon Convention Center)


 

Engaging with the community is an important part of public health and beyond public meetings and workshops, social media may provided an effective way to get the messages out to increase awareness of mosquito-borne disease (Photo: Steve Doggett)

Engaging with the community is an important part of public health and beyond public meetings and workshops, social media may provided an effective way to get the messages out to increase awareness of mosquito-borne disease (Photo: Steve Doggett)

3. Can social media extend the reach of public health messages?

Webb CE

Increasing the exposure of public health messages is critical. This is particularly the case for mosquito-borne disease where advice on personal protection measures often informs the first line of defense against biting mosquitoes. Traditional media has been the mainstay of communication efforts by local authorities but could the use of social media provide a new vehicle for disseminating information and engaging with the wider community? The aims of this study were to determine if promotion and engagement via social media influenced how online information is accessed. A range of social media platforms, particularly Twitter, were employed to disseminate public health messages and engage the community and traditional media outlets. The total weekly exposure of “tweets” was measured for six months with approximately 40,000 people per week received tweets with maximum exposure of almost 190,000 people in a single week. Engagement with the accounts of traditional media (e.g. radio, print, television, online) was found to be the main route to increased exposure and, subsequently, to increased access of public health information online. With the increasing accessibility of the community to online resources via smartphones, researchers and public health advocates must develop strategies to effectively use social media. Many people now turn to social media as a source of news and information and those in the field of public health, as well as entomological research more generally, must take advantage of these new opportunities.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014: 8:00 AM-12:00 PM
Portland Ballroom 252 (Oregon Convention Center)

If you’re attending the meeting, please say hi if you’re passing by and feel free to introduce yourself using your twitter handle! If you’re not at the meeting, you can keep track by following the hashtag #EntSoc14. I’ll be trying to tweet about bits and pieces during the conference so please join the conversation!

The image at the top of this post taken from “Top ten things you didn’t know about Portland

 

Mosquitoes, constructed wetlands, urban design and climate change: Some workshop resources

wetlandswalkThis is a short summary of resources supporting my lecture on “Mosquito Management, Climate Change and Urban Design” at Environmental Health Association of NSW Public Health School on Monday 24 March 2014, Sydney Olympic Park.

The nuisance-biting and potential transmission of pathogens by mosquitoes in coastal Australia is a concern for local authorities. Increasingly so at the fringes of our cities. There has been something of a resurgence in Ross River virus this year with the virus isolated from mosquitoes collected at a number of locations across NSW.

While it is difficult to determine exactly why this resurgence has been experienced this year, there are a number of factors that can predispose a region to elevated risk. An understanding of local risks are important and regionally specific mosquito management plans (i.e. the “Living with Mosquitoes” strategies) have been developed in the Hunter and Mid North Coast as well as the Central Coast regions of NSW. These documents provide an overview of mosquito fauna, identify key pest and vector species and their associated habitats and respective environmental drivers of abundance. With the provision of information on mosquito management strategies, local authorities can develop regionally specific responses to seasonal pest and public health risks.

wetlands_sydneyparkAs well as providing strategies for local authorities on mosquito control activities, they also provide opportunities to shape future mosquito-borne disease risk through urban design. While efforts are underway to better manage urban water conservation through Water Sensitive Urban Design, perhaps “Mosquito Aware urban Design” should also become an important component of new residential developments? There appears to be growing evidence that how we manage water in our cities will have just as great an impact of future mosquito-borne disease risk as climate change.

Despite the claims that often accompany discussion of the health impacts of climate change, Australia is unlikely to see a dramatic increase in “exotic” mosquito-borne disease. There may be regional increases in Ross River virus and Barmah Forest virus with changes in rainfall, temperature, extreme weather events and sea level rise but, equally, some regions may see a decrease. Understanding the complex interactions between mosquitoes, wetlands, wildlife and pathogens is required to fully understand these “endemic” risks. Perhaps with regard to “exotic” risks associated with viruses such as dengue and chikungunya, it will be the introduction of exotic mosquitoes, such as the Asian Tiger Mosquito, Aedes albopictus, that will pose the greatest risk.

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

There are many things Environmental Health Officers with local council or health authorities will need to consider when assessing local mosquito risks but the basis for all their decisions should come from a well designed and resources surveillance program. There are new technologies available for both the collection of mosquitoes as well as detection of pathogens. However, an understanding of regionally important pathogens, mosquitoes and their local habitats is critical.

The slides of my presentation are below:

 

Some key resources were included in the presentation and are linked to below.

For guidelines on the risk assessment of potential mosquitoes and mosquito-borne disease associated with constructed wetlands in western Sydney, see this document developed by Western Sydney Local Health District Byun & Webb – Guidelines for mosquito risk assessment and management in constructed wetlands – WSLHD – Nov 2012

There are two chapters contained within the recent eBook (free to download) “Workbook for Managing Urban Wetlands in Australia” that provide an understanding of mosquito and mosquito-borne disease risk more generally in association with freshwater constructed wetlands and estuarine rehabilitated wetlands.

 

 

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]

Entomology 2013: Science Impacting a Connected World

IMG_7511The annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America takes place this week in Austin, Texas. I’ll be presenting a “virtual poster” on the mosquito-borne disease risk factors associated with wetland rehabilitation, urban development and climate change.

I wish I could be there in Austin. I was luck enough to visit in February 2012 when I attended the annual meeting of the American Mosquito Control Association. It is a wonderful city and I hope to make it back someday soon.

IMG_5671Even though it will only be “virtual” attendance, I’m still excited about sharing my work at this meeting. It summarizes some of the my major research interests that revolve around the use of urban planning to assist the reduction in mosquito-borne disease. Particularly with regard to wetland rehabilitation and wildlife management. The use of planning instruments is important and just as authorities reconsider the approach to urban plannign in bushfire prone areas, perhaps authorities should consider approving new developments in areas where another hazard of the Australian environment is present…..mosquitoes. Some councils are already aware of the risks and attempting to manage those risks.

The Saltmarsh Mosquito (Aedes vigilax) (Photo: Stephen Doggett)

The Saltmarsh Mosquito (Aedes vigilax) (Photo: Stephen Doggett)

Although the option to discuss my poster with attendees via Skype isn’t available this time, I hope that there is a bit of interest via Twitter. Check out #EntSoc13

Here are the details of my poster:

Managing mosquito-borne disease risk in response to weather, wetlands and wildlife in coastal Australia

Cameron E Webb

Mosquito-borne disease management in Australia faces challenges on many fronts. Many gaps exist in our understanding of the drivers of mosquito-borne disease risk, particularly with regard to Ross River virus (RRV) that causes a potentially severe flu-like illness. Notwithstanding the environmental drivers of mosquito abundance, the role of interactions between mosquitoes and wildlife may play a role in disease outbreaks. Local authorities in coastal Australia responsible for the management of new residential developments and wetland rehabilitation projects are increasingly aware of strategies to reduce mosquito-borne disease risk. Mapping actual and potential mosquito habitats, with consideration to the environmental drivers of mosquito abundance, such as rainfall and tidal inundation of estuarine wetlands, can inform an assessment of nuisance-biting and public health risks. These assessments can further inform urban planning approvals and adaptive management of wetlands. “Mosquito risk zones” based on mosquito-specific dispersal ranges from local habitats, characterised by vegetation type and potential environmental drivers of mosquito abundance, are being used to guide the design of new residential developments. In conjunction with these developments, constructed wetlands and other water conservation approaches (e.g. rainwater tanks, stormwater infrastructure) are assessed with regard to the potential to produce pest mosquito populations. Site-strategies to reduce these risks are considered. The role of macropods in urban mosquito-borne disease outbreaks, particularly RRV, requires further investigation. The presence of macropods has been shown to increase the risk of mosquito-borne disease. Studies have shown that RRV is more likely to be isolated from local mosquitoes in regions where macropods are present. Therefore, the management of wildlife corridors between urban developments and wetlands may increase the public health risks. Environmentally sensitive mosquito control strategies may be required to reduce the risks where suitable mosquito habitats and wildlife occur close to residential developments.

If you’re at ‘Entomology 2013’, check out my poster on Saturday, November 9, 2013: 3:20 PM (Austin time) in Meeting Room 11 AB (Austin Convention Center).

You can also view the poster here.

Australian Entomological Society conference 2013

bedbug_stevedoggett

Common bed bug (Photo: Stephen Doggett, Medical Entomology, Pathology West – ICPMR Westmead)

The annual conference of the Australian Entomological Society is on next week. Although I’ll be missing the trip to Adelaide this year, our lab will be represented with some presentations on bed bugs and biting insects!

The 44st AGM and Scientific Conference of the Australian Entomological Society will be held from 29 September through until 2 October 2013 in Adelaide, South Australia. These meetings are great and I’m disappointed not to be attending this year. The meetings attract a wide range of researchers in the field of entomology, from those working on agricultural pests through to ecologists using arthropods to measure environmental change.

The theme of the conference is “Invertebrates in extreme environments”. I was originally planning on presenting some work on the saltmarsh mosquito, Aedes vigilax. This is an insect that thrives in the super saline conditions of tidally influenced saltmarsh habitats. It has adapted to these environments be developing dessication resistant eggs, the ability to lay its first batch of eggs without the need for a blood meal and can disperse many kilometers from the wetlands. It also happens to be a major nuisance-biting pest and vector of pathogens including Ross River virus. Time and budgets squished that plan unfortunately, perhaps next time.

I will be there in spirit though as co-author on a couple of presentations:

A New Resource on Medical Entomology

Webb, C.E., Doggett S.L. & Russell R.C.

The field of medical entomology covers much more than just mosquitoes! A new resource will soon be available to those government and non-government organisations that often need to provide advice on a range of arthropods of medical importance in Australia. The Environmental Health Committee (enHealth) of the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing has commissioned the production of revised guides for the management of arthropod pests of public health importance in Australia. The original document, Guidelines for the Control of Public Health Pests: Lice, fleas, scabies, bird mites, bedbugs and ticks, was produced in 1999 and, while providing a useful resource for environmental health officers responding to enquiries from the general public, much of the information had become outdated. There was also a number important pests and/or pest groups left out of the original document. A new version of the document is expected to be made available for public comment in 2013 and this presentation will summarise some of the key features of, and additions to, the revised document.

and

Insecticide Resistance In Bed Bugs In Australia: Are They Getting A Little Too Cozy In Your Bed?

Lilly, D.G., M.P. Zalucki, S.L. Doggett, C.J. Orton, R.C. Russell & C.E. Webb

Insecticide resistance in bed bugs has been nominated as a major factor in the pest’s resurgence. Recent studies using field and laboratory strains of Cimex lectularius and C.hemipterus across Europe, Africa, Asia and North America have variously demonstrated resistance to the pyrethroids, carbamates and, to a lesser extent, the organophosphates. Resistance has been suspected in Australia, with anecdotal reports of treatment failures due to poor product performance. Early efficacy investigations on a range of formulated products found indications of resistance in an Australian derived strain of C. lectularius. To confirm if resistance was present, four compounds (permethrin, deltamethrin, bendiocarb and pirimiphos-methyl) encompassing the major groups of insecticides then registered for bed bug control in Australia were selected for bioassay along with one compound (imidacloprid) to which strains should not have received any exposure at that time. LD50 values (at 24 h) were determined via topical application of the technical grade compounds serially diluted in acetone against a suspected resistant strain (collected from and designated the ‘Sydney’ strain) and a susceptible laboratory strain imported from Bayer CropScience AG, Germany (the ‘Monheim’ strain). All tests were conducted using mixedsex adult bed bugs that had been offered a blood meal within the last 7 days. All compounds tested against the Monheim strain demonstrated high levels of insecticidal activity. However, for the Sydney strain only pirimiphos-methyl and imidacloprid showed high levels of efficacy. Bendiocarb, permethrin and deltamethrin all failed to return greater than 60% mortality at the maximum applied rate of 100μg/μL. The resistance factor (calculated as: Sydney LD50 / Monheim LD50) for each compound was:permethrin = 1.4 million, deltamethrin = 430,000, bendiocarb = 240, pirimiphos-methyl =2.8, imidacloprid = 2.7. Thus using this experimental protocol, resistance was detected with the pyrethroids and carbamates, but not the organophosphates or neonicotinoids (with thedifferences reflected against those compounds likely due instead to a minor resistance- related fitness cost or physiological difference between the strains). This research has significant implications for current and future insecticide management when attempting to control bed bugs. Further studies are ongoing to determine the mechanism(s) of resistance.

It looks like it will be a great meeting with lots of interesting presentations. The full program is available here and I hope there’ll be some tweeting using the hastag #AES2013

6th International Congress of the Society for Vector Ecology

Culex_molestus_Photo_StephenDoggettThis month, medical entomologists from across the globe will come together in California for the 6th International Congress of the Society for Vector Ecology. With thanks to a travel grant provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, two of my (recently completed) PhD students will be attending and presenting work on the role of mosquitoes in urban environments and mosquito-borne disease risk.

The Society for Vector Ecology was established in 1968 to bring together individuals interested in the management of vector-borne disease. This includes professionals mostly involved in mosquito research, mosquito control and surveillance operations and communications. Every four years, the society holds a congress either in North America or Europe. The couple of congresses that I’ve attended have been fantastic and I’m greatly disappointed not to be able to attend this year’s meeting.

The 6th International Congress of the Society for Vector Ecology is being held 22-27 September in La Quinta, California, USA. You can have a look at a PDF of the program here.

Although I won’t be able to make it, two of my PhD students will be attending after being awarded travel grants by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They will be presenting some of the work they completed as part of their PhD candidature.

The titles and abstracts of their presentations are below.

Understanding the ecological importance of mosquitoes to insectivorous bats and the implications for mosquito-borne disease management in coastal Australia

Leroy Gonsalves, Bradley Law, Cameron Webb, Vaughan Monamy and Brian Bicknell

Manangement of mosquito-borne disease risk in coastal Australia faces many challenges. Urbanisation is increasing the size and proximity of the community to productive mosquito habitats. Coastal wetlands are also the focus of conservation and rehabilitation efforts. Mosquitoes associated with these wetlands, in particular the saltmarsh mosquito, Aedes vigilax, are abundant, widely dispersing and key vectors of Ross River and Barmah Forest viruses. These mosquitoes may also represent an abundant prey resource for threatened and endangered insectivorous bat species and local authorities are reluctant to approve broadscale mosquito control programs due to concerns regarding indirect impacts on local bat populations. A combination of diet analysis, radio-tracking and prey abundance studies were undertaken. Analysing prey DNA within guano collected from 52 individuals representing five local bat species demonstrated that bats consumed a diverse range of prey dominated by lepidopterans. Consumption of Ae. vigilax was restricted to two species, Vespadelus pumilus and V. vulturnus. Radiotracking of 13 V. vulturnus individuals during periods of relatively large and small population abundances of Ae. vigilax, together with monitoring of prey abundance, revealed that foraging ranges of bats shifted in response to mosquito abundance (and no other prey). These findings suggest that there are species-specific relationships between bats and mosquitoes and that there may be site-specific strategies required to balance mosquito management and bat conservation.

The biology, distribution and genetics of Culex molestus in Australia?

Nur Faeza A Kassim, Cameron E Webb & Richard C Russell

The Culex pipiens subgroup of mosquitoes includes some of the most important vector species involved in mosquito-borne disease transmission internationally and four species within this subgroup are found in Australia. One of these species, Culex molestus, is thought to have been introduced into Australia in the 1940s. Closely associated with subterranean urban habitats, this mosquito has the potential to cause serious nuisance biting impacts but also may cause significant public health risks through the transmission of endemic arboviruses. Exotic pathogens, such as West Nile virus, may also pose a potential threat to biosecurity of Australia. Our review of the literature has confirmed that the current Australian distribution of Cx. molestus is limited to areas south of latitude -28.17ºS. However, given that the mosquito is established in habitats south of the corresponding zone in the northern hemisphere, there is potential for Cx. molestus to spread north into QLD and NT. Molecular analysis of the mosquito indicated that Australian Cx. molestus shared stronger genetic similarity with specimens from Asia than specimens from Europe or North America. Laboratory and field studies have shown that the mosquito is uniquely adapted to urban environments through the expression of autogeny (ability to lay their first batch of eggs without a blood meal) and stenogamy (ability to mate in confined spaces). Culex molestus is active throughout the year and the current trend towards increased water storage in urban areas of Australia has raised concerns of increased nuisance-biting and public health risks in the future. However, the results of our studies indicate that there may be biological and ecological barriers that may lessen the importance of this mosquito in urban mosquito-borne disease cycles. A delay in blood feeding resulting from their obligatory autogeny, combined with limited access to potential reservoir hosts, may reduce the likelihood of them playing a significant role in pathogen transmission.

Social Media and Hospital Week

webb_birdThe Westmead Association “Hospital Week” 2013 runs from 7-9 August. There are many symposiums, debates and social functions that showcase some of the clinical research, innovation and expertise displayed by the professionals associated with Westmead Hospital. Symposium topics include diabetes, cannabis & cannabinoids, infectious diseases and psychiatry.

As part of the Hospital Week Research Symposium, I will be presenting a poster titled “Can social media increase the exposure of medical research and public health messages?”

ABSTRACT. Increasing the exposure of public health messages and medical research is critical. Could the use of social media provide an avenue to increased exposure of new research and improve engagement with the wider community? The aims of this study were to determine if promotion and engagement via social media influenced how online information is accessed.

A recently published paper in an online open access journal was promoted on social media platforms (e.g. Twitter and Facebook). Changes in daily page views and downloads compared to another five publications were recorded for a three week period. The publication that received the most mentions on social media platforms was also the most viewed and downloaded.

A Twitter account was set up to disseminate public health messages and engage the community and traditional media outlets. The total weekly exposure of “tweets” was measured for six months. On average, approximately 40,000 people per week received tweets with maximum exposure of almost 190,000 people in a single week. Engagement with the accounts of traditional media (e.g. radio, print, television, online) was found to be the main route to increased exposure and, subsequently, to increased access of public health information online.

The results highlight the potential for social media to increase exposure of both newly published research and public health messages. With the increasing accessibility of the community to online resources via smartphones, researchers and public health advocates must develop strategies to effectively use social media. Many people now turn to social media as a source of news and information and those in the field of public health must take advantage of these new opportunities. In particular, the ability to easily engage with traditional media outlets further increases exposure beyond online communities.

I’ve taken this opportunity to present something a little different to my usual research (almost always related to mosquito-borne disease management) in the hope of sparking a little interest in the use of social media to both spread public health messages and promote newly published research. I’m also hoping to encourage a few of my colleagues to jump into the world of Twitter too.

This poster pulls together work presented in more detail in a couple of previous blog posts on my use of social media. Could social media help beat the bite of mosquito-borne disease? and Can social media increase the exposure of newly published research?

You can download the PDF of my poster here.

Australian Mammal Society Conference

IMG_5671On Tuesday 9 July I’m presenting some work at the Australian Mammal Society conference at the University of NSW. The title of my presentation is “The role of macropods in mosquito-borne disease: Implications for urban development and wetland rehabilitation” (my coauthors are Stephen Doggett (Medical Entomology, Westmead Hospital) and Mark Ferson (University of NSW/NSW Health).

Ross River virus causes around 5,000 cases of reported human disease every year but, as the symptoms can sometime be mild, the official data is probably an underestimate. The role of Australian wildlife in mosquito-borne transmission cycles is often overlooked. The emphasis is generally placed on mosquito populations and their relationship to environmental drivers of population abundance. We have some very good data on the types of mosquitoes responsible for transmitting RRV thanks to detection of the virus in wild caught mosquito populations and “vector competence” experiments in the laboratory.

There have only been a few studies looking at the role of wildlife. These studies have included serological surveys, isolation of pathogens from wildlife and laboratory studies investigating the titre and duration of viremia in infected animals. These studies have helped identify macropods as some of the key reservoir hosts of RRV in coastal Australia. However, we still don’t know much about how the local wildlife, mosquitoes and pathogens interact under the influence of local environmental and climatic conditions. In particular, how does the ecology of local macropods influence local mosquito-borne disease risk? To be even more specific, how may the conservation strategies of local wildlife at the urban fringe influence public health risks?

If you’d like to read more about RRV, there are two very good review papers here and here. For more on mosquito risk associated with urban development, see my piece here.

IMG_7562My presentation will concentrate on mosquito abundance and diversity, as well as the activity of mosquito-borne pathogens, from two estuarine river systems in Sydney. The Parramatta River and Georges River systems contain comparable mosquito habitat dominated by estuarine wetlands (i.e. saltmarsh and mangroves) but support very different populations of macropods. There aren’t any macropods along the Parramatta River. What we’ve found by studying these two systems can be used to assist in urban development plans where wildlife conservation may require increased awareness of mosquito population management.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that the conservation of macropods isn’t important. The point here is that local authorities must be aware that in regions where there are opportunities for interactions between mosquitoes and wildlife (particularly kangaroos and wallabies), public health risks will be higher. Increased mosquito populations in association with newly constructed or rehabilitated wetlands, particularly in urban areas, may risk only increase nuisance-biting impacts. However, at the fringes of our cities, the risks of disease caused by pathogens such as RRV must be considered. In these circumstances, mosquito management strategies should be more carefully considered.

The full abstract of my presentation is below:

Mosquito-borne disease risk in coastal regions of Australia is a concern for local authorities. Many gaps exist in our understanding of the drivers of mosquito-borne disease risk, particularly with regard to the role of interactions between mosquitoes and wildlife. Macropods have been identified as important reservoir hosts of mosquito-borne pathogens and the presence of kangaroos and/or wallabies is a critical factor in driving outbreaks of disease. What are the implications for urban development and wetland rehabilitation projects? To investigate the role of macropods in urban mosquito-borne disease outbreaks, mosquitoes and activity of Ross River virus (RRV) was investigated in two estuarine wetland systems in Sydney. The abundance and diversity of mosquitoes produced by the estuarine wetlands along the Parramatta River and Georges River are similar with the dominant mosquito Aedes vigilax. There are no macropods are present along the Parramatta River. Few isolations of RRV have been detected along the Parramatta River but significantly higher rates of RRV (as well as other mosquito-borne pathogens) have been detected from mosquitoes collected along the Georges River. In addition, public health investigation confirmed local acquisition of RRV disease in residents living along the Georges River. No locally acquired RRV disease has been confirmed from the Parramatta River region. The use of natural bushland wildlife corridors along the George’s River by macropods is increasing local disease risk in that region. The results have implications for urban planning where wetland creation and rehabilitation, as well as wildlife corridors, may increase local public health risks.

The full program for the Australian Mammal Society conference is available here.

UPDATE: There was a nice article by Nicky Phillips in the Sydney Morning Herald on 13 July covering this story too “Urban kangaroos, wallabies harbour Ross River virus

Video lecture: Urban planning and mosquito-borne disease

Can urban planning influence mosquito-borne disease risk in Australia from Cam Webb on Vimeo.

The video above was originally broadcast to the The International Society for Neglected Tropical Diseases meeting at the Natural History Museum, London, 17 October 2012. You can read some background to the meeting here.

Abstract: Mosquito-borne disease management in coastal Australia faces many challenges. Increasing urbanisation is bringing the community closer to productive mosquito habitats but environmental management of coastal wetlands is often in conflict with effective mosquito control strategies. Broadscale mosquito control activities are restricted, resulting in annually abundant pest and vector mosquito populations, and large scale estuarine wetland rehabilitation projects are increasing the availability of productive mosquito habitat. Balancing the desire for environmental conservation with the need to protect the health of human communities requires integrated urban design strategies combined with targeted research. Local authorities are looking to use planning instruments to minimize the impacts of local mosquitoes, such as the incorporation of buffer zones between residential allotments and mosquito habitats as well as design, construction and maintenance requirements of constructed wetlands.