May 7, 2009

Humans blamed for Australia’s dengue risks

Australian scientists are blaming humans for their nation's dengue risks and say installing large water tanks in urban regions might make the problem worse.

The researchers, led by Nigel Beebe from the University of Queensland, said such domestic water tanks would enable the dengue mosquito (Aedes aegypti) to regain its foothold across the country and expand its range of possible infections.

Beebe and colleagues from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, the Australian Army Malaria Institute and the Communicable Diseases Branch of Queensland Health, challenge the common assumption that climate change will drive the spread of this mosquito, suggesting the real driver is human behavior.

Dengue risks will not be driven directly by warmer temperatures or changes in rainfall patterns, Beebe said. "Our summers already provide ideal conditions for dengue transmission around the country. But the introduction of government-subsidized water storage devices now adds the ideal breeding ground for the dengue mosquito to re-emerge.

While research is properly focused on the impact of anthropogenic climate change, this study highlights the need to look also at our responses to those changes and the outcomes they generate, he added.

The study appears in the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.