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23 April 2019

James Cook University senior research fellow and virologist, Dr Paul Horwood, is focussed on helping developing countries to stay a step ahead of emerging diseases that could one day find their way to Australia.

“To steal a much-used quotation: viruses do not respect borders,” he said. “We need to know more about what’s circulating so, as a global community, we can have more knowledge, be better warned, and try to reduce the impact.

“From Australia’s point of view that means working with partners in the region to improve surveillance and capacities to be able to investigate and detect pathogens in the region.”

Dr Horwood is well placed to take a global view on emerging diseases, having spent much of his career building research capacity in developing countries.

He has worked throughout South East Asia and the Pacific, establishing an Environmental and Emerging Diseases unit in Papua New Guinea, and tracking the evolution and spread of Avian influenza through live bird markets in Cambodia. The disease kills all infected poultry and 50 to 60 percent of infected humans.

Dr Horwood also worked on LACANET; a major project involving a number of regional research organisations, designed to explore the key drivers of zoonotic disease emergence in Laos and Cambodia, including the impact of land clearing on the distribution of rodents and mosquitoes.

“It has been shown that pathogens are more likely to emerge where there is an interface between high human population, high density of domestic animals and frequent contact with wildlife. These are usually tropical, developing countries,” he said.

Since joining AITHM in 2017, Dr Horwood has maintained his research interests in Cambodia and PNG. He and his team are heavily involved in a PNG biodiversity survey, collecting different species of rodents and bats – often from remote locations only accessible by helicopter – to screen for a range of pathogens, such as Leptospira and coronaviruses, and assess for risk of emergence.

His PNG research is part of a major AITHM Indo Pacific tropical disease research initiative, the Tropical Partners Project, funded by a $1.8 million grant from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The project extends to the Solomon Islands, where Dr Horwood is exploring the circulation of (mosquito-borne) arboviruses, including dengue, zika, chikungunya and Ross River. The team has collected blood samples from villagers across four provinces to trace the distribution of these viruses and predict future risk of outbreaks.

“I find it really rewarding to work with people in developing countries,” he said. “The people you mentor and teach progress so very quickly … You can see that it makes a huge difference to their lives, but also potentially to the health and welfare of their country.”

Dr Paul Horwood 

Senior Lecturer - Virology and Viral Diseases

College of Public Health, Medical & Vet Sciences

Centre for Tropical Bioinformatics and Molecular Biology

Phone(07) 4781 4036

LocationTownsville Campus

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