Zika has reached Australia and authorities are taking preventive measures to prevent a large-scale outbreak.
Mosquito season may be drawing to a close in the United States, but it is just beginning on the other side of the equator—meaning, potentially more Zika virus cases in countries such as Brazil, which has been battling an outbreak since 2014.
Another southern hemisphere nation with an emerging Zika problem, Australia, has already identified nearly 80 cases of the mosquito-borne virus, according to news reports, a sign the global crisis associated with the infection is far from over. Of the total cases, seven have been confirmed in the North Queensland region of the country, this mosquito season alone.
“This time of year from November onwards is rainy season,” Richard Gair, MB MS, director, Tropical Public Health Services, Cairns, North Queensland told MSN news. “The temperature goes up so we have more mosquitoes… We’ve never seen a Zika outbreak in Australia, but if we’re going to see [one] we would expect it to be seen at the same time and the same place.”
Officials in Australia believe the virus was introduced to the island nation via travelers from Fiji, Tonga, and Mexico as well as from Brazil. Though first identified in Brazil and the Caribbean in 2014, Zika has started appearing in areas of Southeast Asia and the south Pacific since earlier this year.
To prevent a large-scale outbreak, authorities in Australia have begun vector control programs such as pesticide spraying in areas popular with travelers, initiated increased testing of blood samples, and established education programs on Zika prevention, including methods for protecting against mosquito bites and sexual transmission. Thus far, no person-to-person transmission of Zika via sexual contact has been reported in Australia.
Meanwhile, the Australia Pediatric Surveillance Unit at Sydney’s Westmead Children's Hospital has been monitoring all new cases of microcephaly in children under age one to identify any links to infection with the Zika virus. To date, no cases of the birth defect have been attributed to the virus in Australia .
Brian P. Dunleavy is a medical writer and editor based in New York. His work has appeared in numerous healthcare-related publications. He is the former editor of Infectious Disease Special Edition.