Zika expert Dr Cameron Webb visits Leura to discuss mosquito viruses

There are millions of mosquitoes at any one time in the Blue Mountains and the bad news is the period those females mozzies are biting you is set to extend by three months.

Fascinated by mozzies: Dr Cameron Webb spoke of the dangers of mosquito-borne diseases at a conference in Leura recently.

Fascinated by mozzies: Dr Cameron Webb spoke of the dangers of mosquito-borne diseases at a conference in Leura recently.

That’s the prediction of a mosquito specialist from Westmead Hospital who was visiting the Mountains this week for a leading scientific conference.

NSW Health Pathology’s Dr Cameron Webb visited the Fairmont Resort on Wednesday to present the latest health protection advice on the mosquito-borne infections at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases (ASID).

Dr Webb said the mosquito season in the Blue Mountains and Sydney normally runs from November to April, but with changing weather patterns “bigger numbers of mosquitoes” are starting to arrive in September and extending the season into May.

“Unfortunately I think that’s the case. The environment is more conducive to an extension of the mosquito season,” he said.

“Urbanisation and climate change can alter mosquito activity and increase the risk of mosquito-borne disease outbreaks.”  

Hot spells following by a lot of rain meant he “wasn’t surprised” unexpected other visitors, like biting midges, were now breeding in local decaying vegetation.

Dr Webb has made mozzies his life’s work and spoke about the need, even in the Mountains, to wear proper repellent that contains DEET or picaridin, as, being near bush, with native animals like kangaroos and wallabies about, those macropods could be carrying the viruses that the mosquitoes can eventually transmit to humans.

Australian travellers must not be complacent about Zika, Dengue and other mosquito-borne infections, he said, as Dengue hits more than 2,000 cases last year among Australian travellers. While there have been no cases of local transmission of Zika virus in Australia to date and only 59 cases confirmed in Australian travellers returning home, he said ongoing scientific research and monitoring was paramount to prepare Australia for potential outbreaks.

Global harm caused by epidemics, such as Zika virus, and the importance of outbreak preparation are central to new global health recommendations released last week ahead of the next G20 Summit. 

He advised those travelling to warmer climes to not be complacent.

“When visiting tropical locations, you can help to minimise the risks with mosquito bites by wearing insect repellent that contains DEET, especially during the day as this is when the mosquitoes that spread viruses such as Dengue and Zika most readily bite.”

Mosquito-borne infections already present in Australia include Ross River, Barmah Forest and Murray Valley encephalitis viruses. 

In that past there had been Ross River cases in the Mountains which meant we couldn’t be complacent, he said.

The ASID Annual Scientific Meeting is the leading Australasian meeting for adult and paediatric infectious disease and clinical microbiology specialists. 

The conference continues until Saturday.