MASH fans will be familiar with Trapper and Hawkeye. Their present-day counterparts have been busy fighting arbovirus vectors in the Kimberley. They put out the traps for those pesky Diptera (culicine mosquitoes) that transmit Australian arboviruses like Murray Valley encephalitis virus and Ross River virus.
The 2010-11 season was a big one for MVEV with a series of tragic cases hitting the headlines. With no vaccine on the horizon, environmental surveillance using mosquito traps and control measures are the mainstay of our defences against these potentially devastating infections. The Southwestern population is more familiar with Ross River virus infection, particularly in the vicinity of the Peel Inlet. Wet weather has contributed to a bad season for Ross River virus infection, and the weather systems affecting the tropical north of the state have made experts pessimistic that we might have a repeat of the previous season.
So the Lab Without Walls travelled north during the Easter break to support our intrepid moquito trappers. Taking our Lab in a Box (two boxes to be more accurate, but 50kg is a lot more manageable than the 120 kg we needed for Timor Leste), we were able to run molecular tests for Australian arboviruses in the Kimberley for the first time. These field studies are valuable opportunities to work through logistic issues that currently present obstacles to running a more regular service.
The micrognome was mightily relieved that insect repellent, suitable clothing cover and other personal protective measures provided effective barriers to mosquito bites. That shows how good the advice from the mosquito experts was.
Going round the traps, it became clear how much variation there was in number and variety of mosquito species caught. Some species are little more the a nuisance, while others are effective carriers of the viruses we all worry about. Some overnight traps contained only a tiny handful of insects. Others contained hundreds. It is good to know that those mosquitoes won’t be doing any more harm. However it’s a shame that traps can’t be used to bring down the number of vector mosquitoes around homes and workplaces.
Maybe it’s time to think through a more effective approach. As for me, I’d be happy to design close PCR support for Trapper and Hawkeye, even if it does mean getting up early enough to watch the Kimberley sunrise several days in a row.
Our thanks to the WA Health Department mosquito surveillance team, PathWest staff and the Bio-Rad molecular diagnostics team who all contributed to a successful Lab Without Walls deployment.