Mosquito trap to improve disease detection in Australia

Researchers involved in the HOT NORTH research initiative are trialling new mosquito traps that will allow for the rapid detection of a range of mosquito-borne illnesses threatening northern Australia.

Dr Dagmar Meyer, a research fellow with HOT NORTH, is testing a range of traps located around Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia.

“The hope is that we can detect mosquito-borne diseases earlier than we can now and in an easier and more cost-effective manner,” said Dr Meyer.

The new traps are designed to catch mosquito excreta, more commonly known as mosquito ‘poo’. Recent research has indicated that testing mosquito poo is a quicker and more accurate method of detecting diseases such as malaria, dengue, Murray Valley encephalitis and a host of other mosquito-borne diseases, with an added benefit of being more cost effective than current practices.

“The great thing about collecting mosquito poo is there’s so much of it that you have a greater chance of detection, and because it can be detected earlier in poo compared to saliva, you can take action much more quickly,” Dr Meyer explains.

Disease surveillance is one of the first lines of defence for preventing mosquito-borne diseases from spreading and becoming a major health concern in the north of Australia. Current methods in Australia and elsewhere include the periodic testing of blood from pigs and chickens, processing the whole mosquito and mosquito saliva testing. But these processes are labour and time intensive as well as expensive.

Supervised by HOT NORTH Chief Investigator Professor Scott Ritchie, an expert in vector borne diseases at James Cook University (JCU), Dr Meyer says the opportunity to continue on with her research with JCU is a great learning opportunity she probably wouldn’t find anywhere else.

“If it wasn’t for the HOT NORTH fellowship, I probably wouldn’t have been able to stay with James Cook University (JCU). In fact, it may have meant leaving Queensland or leaving Australia all together.

“HOT NORTH funding has allowed me stay at JCU in Cairns and continue researching how we can improve non-powered and CO2 free systems for mosquito-borne disease surveillance. It’s great to be able to work with Professor Scott Ritchie and the team at the Mosquito Research Facility in Cairns. I have access to a lot of expertise that I otherwise might not have been able to find elsewhere,” Dr Meyer said.

Vector borne diseases represent a real danger to people living in the tropical northern areas of Australia. Diseases such as Murray Valley encephalitis, Barmah Forest, Ross River, and Kunjin are all mosquito borne diseases that can cause serious illness and disability.

These traps represent a real and important step in the detection and prevention of these serious life-threatening diseases. We are expanding the research to develop and test CO2-free mosquito baits.

Because these traps are being designed to run without power and CO2 they provide a sensible and cost-effective model for use not just in northern Australia but in other areas around the world where populations live in remote and low-income settings.

Vector borne and emerging diseases is just one important segment of the HOT NORTH research portfolio. The integrated research agenda protects the north from emerging infectious threats and engages regional neighbours, and helps close the gap in Indigenous health disadvantage.

With five key research themes covering skin health, respiratory health, antimicrobial resistance, chronic diseases, and vector borne and emerging diseases HOT NORTH integrates the know-how of researchers from around Australia.

Dr Meyer was the recipient of a 2017 HOT NORTH fellowship entitled ‘Can mosquito excreta be used to enhance detection of Australian vector-borne diseases?’. She has since built upon this initial project to successfully apply for a 2018 HOT NORTH fellowship. She is currently working on the project entitled ‘Development of a non-powered and CO2- free system for mosquito-borne disease surveillance.’