Dengue transmission in Australia is currently restricted to Queensland, where the vector mosquito Aedes aegypti is established. Locally acquired infections have been reported only from urban areas in the north-east of the state, where the vector is most abundant.
Considerable attention has been drawn to the potential impact of climate change on dengue distribution within Australia, with projections for substantial rises in incidence and distribution associated with increasing temperatures.
However, historical data show that much of Australia has previously sustained both the vector mosquito and dengue viruses. Although current vector distribution is restricted to Queensland, the area inhabited by A. aegypti is larger than the disease-transmission areas, and is not restricted by temperature (or vector-control programs); thus, it is unlikely that rising temperatures alone will bring increased vector or virus distribution.
Factors likely to be important to dengue and vector distribution in the future include increased dengue activity in Asian and Pacific nations that would raise rates of virus importation by travellers, importation of vectors via international ports to regions without A. aegypti, higher rates of domestic collection and storage of water that would provide habitat in urban areas, and growing human populations in northern Australia.
Past and recent successful control initiatives in Australia lend support to the idea that well resourced and functioning surveillance programs, and effective public health intervention capabilities, are essential to counter threats from dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases.
Models projecting future activity of dengue (or other vector-borne disease) with climate change should carefully consider the local historical and contemporary data on the ecology and distribution of the vector and local virus transmission.
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