Associate Professor Cameron Webb, Mosquito Researcher, NSW Health Pathology I Dogabilim Talks

Why do mosquitoes cause disease? Can you enlighten us on this?

Mosquitoes can transmit the pathogens that make us sick. These pathogens may be viruses (such as dengue or yellow fever virus) or parasites (such as malaria). The mosquitoes themselves aren’t intentionally spreading these pathogens, it is the pathogens themselves that are exploiting the bloodfeeding behaviour of mosquitoes to move from host to host. When people are infected, it will often result in a range of symptoms that we would describe as a mosquito-borne disease.

We know that many people do not like mosquitoes very much. What do you think is the reason behind this?

People hate being bitten by mosquitoes! The irritation caused by their bites can have a serious impact of people’s health and well being. I also suspect that many people do not appreciate how interesting mosquitoes are either. There are thousands of different types of mosquitoes found around the world but only a small number pose any serious health risks.

Resim
“One of the charming yellow fever mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti) from our laboratory colony.
Giving up a small amount of blood for a new batch of photos was worth it.”

Mosquitoes are said to be the most deadly animals in the world. What would you like to say about this subject?

It is true. At least, it is true that the pathogens spread by mosquitoes kill more people than any other animal. It is estimated that up to 1 million people die each year due to mosquito bite and hundreds of millions more are infected with one of these pathogens.

Resim
“I think this is the first morning of fieldwork that actually feels like summer, still not too many mosquitoes about but with warm weather now arriving while there is plenty of water about in wetlands and bushland areas, expect more to follow!”

Can deaths caused by mosquitoes be prevented?

Of course. The problem is that it can be very difficult to get the best methods of prevention to the most vulnerable in our communities. Mosquito-borne disease can be prevented through vaccines and other medications (e.g. Yellow Fever, Japanese encephalitis, malaria), mosquito control efforts, or personal protection measures adopted by individuals or communities (e.g. bed nets, topical insect repellents). If you can prevent someone being bitten by a mosquito, you can prevent them suffering a mosquito-borne disease.

How far can a mosquito travel in a day?

Different types of mosquitoes have a different propensity to travel. Some mosquitoes can fly over 20km while others don’t fly more than 100m from their habitats.

Should mosquito-related studies be carried out while controlling wetlands?

Managing wetlands with a view to potential mosquito populations is important. Wetlands are critical to many local ecosystems and they will play an important role in protecting our cities and towns from the impacts of climate change. However, they can also produce mosquitoes that impact future generations. Because of this, mosquitoes and wetlands should be managed together.

Resim
“Fieldwork in wetlands around Parramatta River, Duck River, and Sydney Olympic Park.”

You are the lead author of “A Guide to Mosquitoes of Australia”. Can you tell us a little bit about this book?

“A Guide to Mosquitoes of Australia” provides a pictorial guide to almost 100 of Australia’s mosquitoes, their habitats, and their role in disease. It covers all states and territories of Australia and provides some tips and tricks for preventing mosquito bites too.

What effect does population growth have on the transmission of epidemics?

Mosquito-borne disease and population growth are closely linked. Not only are more people going to be living closer to mosquito habitats as out cities and towns expand but the challenges of poverty and waste management in our cities may provided additional opportunities for mosquitoes and risks of mosquito-borne disease. Hopefully technologies will improve the way we manage the health risks associated with mosquitoes, whether it is through new vaccines, genetic modification (or other biological “hacks”) of mosquitoes, or control methods we can reduce the pest and public health risks associated with mosquitoes.

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