Chikun­gunya out­break a grow­ing risk

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Resources - Adam Cress­well Health ed­i­tor

THE chances that Aus­tralia could suf­fer an out­break of Chikun­gunya virus could be far greater than thought, fol­low­ing con­fir­ma­tion that na­tive mos­qui­toes can be in­fected when ex­posed to the virus. The virus — closely re­lated to the bet­ter­known Ross River virus — can cause fever, vom­it­ing, mus­cle pain, headache and rash. Its name is de­rived from an African word mean­ing some­thing that curves — thought to re­fer to stooped pos­tures caused by the arthri­tis with which the in­fec­tion is also as­so­ci­ated.

While spo­radic out­breaks have been recorded in Africa and south and south-east Asia, there is no en­demic virus in Aus­tralia.

It had been thought that in Aus­tralia, Chikun­gunya virus could only be spread by two species of mos­quito, which were con­fined to far north Queens­land — the Aedes ae­gypti mos­quito, which also trans­mits dengue fever, and Aedes al­bopic­tus .

How­ever, Andrew van den Hurk, from Queens­land Health’s Foren­sic and Sci­en­tific Ser­vices, says test­ing has re­vealed the virus was is ca­pa­ble of be­ing trans­mit­ted by other species that range far more widely. The two prin­ci­pal species iden­ti­fied as po­ten­tial vec­tors, or car­ri­ers, are Aedes vig­i­lax — dis­trib­uted along most of Aus­tralia’s coast — and Aedesp­ro­cax , mainly along the coast from Bris­bane to Syd­ney.

Van den Hurk says al­though the Chikun­gunya virus it­self is not present in Aus­tralia, events around the world show this is no cause for com­pla­cency. Al­though not nor­mally con­sid­ered life-threat­en­ing, an out­break on Re­union is­land, in the In­dian Ocean east of Mada­gas­car, in 2005 killed more than 200 peo­ple.

As global travel be­comes more com­mon, the risks in­crease that some­one could be in­fected by the virus over­seas, re­turn to Aus­tralia and then pass the in­fec­tion on to lo­cal mos­qui­tos through be­ing bit­ten af­ter their re­turn.

There was an out­break of Chikun­gunya in Italy last year that was traced to an In­dian man visit­ing from In­dia,’’ van den Hurk said.

Pro­fes­sor John Macken­zie, deputy CEO of the Aus­tralian Biose­cu­rity Cen­tre, said the

cur­rent epi­demic ac­tiv­i­ties of Chikun­gunya virus show no signs of abat­ing’’. Out­breaks in the re­gion are in­creas­ing, with new out­breaks in Sin­ga­pore, Malaysia and In­done­sia. This greatly in­creases the chance of an out­break in Aus­tralia and we sim­ply can’t ig­nore the risk any more.’’

Al­though the fever and joint pain as­so­ci­ated with the virus usu­ally only last a few days, in some peo­ple the joint pain can per­sist for weeks.

Van den Hurk says a per­son can only pass in­fec­tion to a mos­quito dur­ing the pe­riod they were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing acute symp­toms. He says peo­ple need to re­duce mos­qui­tos’ breed­ing ar­eas — by emp­ty­ing wa­ter from plant pot bases and other places, un­block­ing gut­ters, and en­sur­ing wa­ter tanks are cov­ered.

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