AITHM James Cook University

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Annual Report

Tropical health sercurity  

Researchers working within the Tropical health security theme focuss on promoting and supporting Australia’s biosecurity and addressing the risk of disease spread across borders throughout tropical regions. Work in this area includes:

  • Vector (mosquito-borne disease) control
  • Disease surveillance, monitoring, containment, and prevention to protect communities against potential disease outbreak
  • One Health (the intersection between human and animal health and their environments)
  • Preparedness and health and humanitarian response to disasters
  • Collaborations with defence.

Research Snapshots

Eliminating dengue fever

The public health entomology team, led by Professor Scott Ritchie, has been pivotal in the successful Eliminate Dengue program (now known as the World Mosquito Program) in northern Queensland. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, this project introduced the natural bacteria, Wolbachia, into the mosquito Aedes aegypti, which is responsible for the transmission of dengue fever. The Wolbachia bacteria is spread when infected females mate with uninfected wild mosquitoes. Once established in the wild population, the bacteria acts like a vaccine to prevent the mosquitoes from transmitting dengue and other viruses such as Zika. The first open field releases occurred in Cairns in 2011, where AITHM’s Mosquito Research Facility (MRF) was responsible for rearing the Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes.

Tropical Partners: strengthening health security in the Indo-Pacific

Professor Emma McBryde leads the Tropical Partners project, which seeks to understand the epidemiology of tuberculosis (TB): how the bacterium invades the body, and how it spreads through populations. Better understanding of TB will lead to better identification, screening, mapping, modelling and investigation of the immune response to TB pathogens and zoonosis. The team also focuses on diagnosis of TB, and delivers research capacity building for health professionals through collaborations with international partners in the Indo-Pacific region.  The overriding goals of this program have been to protect against cross-border spread of TB, preserve national health security, and enhance access to new and effective tools for northern Australia and the Indo-Pacific.

Surveying the Solomon Islands for improved vector control

Mosquitoes transmit a number of diseases throughout tropical Australia and the Indo- Pacific region. When AITHM’s vector ecology and biology research team, led by Professor Tom Burkot, went to small villages in the Solomon Islands, community members lined up for hours for a chance to give blood and contribute to the elimination of malaria in their country. The team analysed samples and data collected from 2000 community members in 19 Solomon Islands villages to better understand the prevalence and spread of mosquito borne diseases, such as malaria, dengue and Zika virus. When published, their findings will be used to guide planning and resource management in the Solomon Islands as well as setting health security research priorities in Australia and other South Pacific nations.