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Australia has a diversity of vectors and vector-borne human diseases. Mosquito-borne arboviruses are of greatest concern, but there are issues with other vector and pathogen systems. Mosquitoes were responsible for more than 35,000 cases of Ross River virus during 1991-1997. Barmah Forest virus is increasing nationwide, and unidentified bunyaviruses suspected of causing illness have been isolated. Cases of Murray Valley encephalitis have occurred in 14 of the past 20 years in northern Australia. Dengue is a continuing problem for northern Queensland, with various serotypes being active. Japanese encephalitis has appeared in the Torres Strait Islands and threatens mainland Australia. Although malaria is eradicated, almost 1,000 cases are imported annually and occasional cases of local transmission occur. With ticks, paralysis in children occurs annually in eastern Australia. Tick typhus (Queensland Tick Typhus–Rickettsia australis) occurs down the east coast, and (Flinders Island Spotted Fever–Rickettsia honei) in Bass Strait and probably Tasmania.
Lyme disease is reported but its presence is controversial. Fleas were responsible for a recent outbreak of murine typhus (Rickettsia typhi) in Western Australia. Mites cause scrub typhus (Orientia tsutsugamushi), and there was a recent fatality in the Northern Territory. Overall, resources for investigation and control of vector-borne
disease have generally been meager. However, various avenues of basic and applied research have been pursued, and have included investigations into mosquito ecology, vector competence,
disease epidemiology, and vector control.
Disease surveillance programs vary between states, and mosquito control programs are organized and effective in only a few regions. There are concerns for import of vectors such as Aedes albopictus and export of pathogens such as Ross River virus; the former has occurred but the species has not become established, and the latter has occurred and has resulted in a major outbreak in the South Pacific. The predicted scenarios of increased temperature and rainfall with global warming are also causing concern for increases in vector-borne diseases, particularly the endemic arboviruses. Interest by health authorities is gravitating more towards epidemiological reporting and less towards public health action. In many respects, humans have much to do to get ‘on top’ of vectors and their pathogens ‘down under’ in Australia.