Essay by Eric Worrall
You might think the easiest way to stop the spread of a dangerous mosquito borne disease is to spray a few mosquitoes. But the real solution, according to Washington Post, is to combat climate change.
As Australia’s climate changes, a tropical disease advances
An outbreak of Japanese encephalitis has infected 34 people and killed three
ECHUCA, Australia — A dust cloud soars behind farmer Tim Kingma’s pickup truck as he drives down a gritty dirt track to a neat row of pig sheds. The landscapeis flat and muted: dry, mostly treeless ground and patchy grass. At this farm in the southeastern state of Victoria, there are hundreds of flies and not a single visible mosquito. It’s a world away from the verdant places one might expect to find fatal tropical diseases.
Japanese encephalitis is rare and mostly asymptomatic. In 99 percent of cases itpasses through the body without causing symptoms. But of the unlucky 1 percent, nearly a third die, and about half the survivors are left with permanent problems. There is no cure, and Australia is spending millions of dollars in a rush to import vaccine doses.
Public health professionals say the appearance of Japanese encephalitis here is just the latest example of how global warming is contributing to the spread of disease. Six years ago, melting permafrost in Siberia released frozen anthrax, which infected an Indigenous community. In 2007, the tropical chikungunya virus was detected in Europe for the first time in two Italian villages and has since appeared in France. In the United States, Lyme disease cases have doubled over 30 years as warmer conditions create longer tick seasons. And in Australia, experts warn Japanese encephalitis could be the first of several illnesses to spread south.
…Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/04/14/australia-japanese-encephalitis-climate-change/
The region around Echuca has seen multiple historic outbreaks of Encephalitis, such as the 1974-75 Encephalitis outbreak, which was contained with a vigorous organophosphate spraying programme. So the latest outbreak is not exactly a new problem.
The Japanese Encephalitis / climate claim is further weakened by the geographical spread of the current outbreak, which covers Echuca (36° south) to Southern Queensland (27° South). Having spent time in both regions, and visited Echuca more than once, I can personally assure you the climate in Echuca is very different to the climate of Southern Queensland.
If Japanese Encephalitis is sensitive to climate change, why is it flourishing over such a wide range of climates?
Places like Echuca do make an effort to spray the mosquitoes. Unfortunately in Australia greens tend to oppose mosquito control programmes with the same vigour they oppose forest fire fuel control burns, with hysterical claims of cancer clusters and environmental damage.
In my opinion, over the decades, this green opposition has contributed to a reduction of large scale spraying programmes, from historical proactive annual spraying programmes which fogged entire towns and surrounding regions with protective chemicals, to reactive strategies, in which vigorous spraying mostly occurs after the encephalitis outbreak or whatever has killed a few people.
Frankly I’d like to see a return to large scale proactive spraying. Admittedly the risk is small – if you visited Echuca, most likely you would have a good time admiring the architecture and enjoying the cafes and river attractions. If you picked up a few mosquito bites, you would have to be extroardinarily unlucky to catch Encephalitis, even in the middle of an outbreak. But why does anyone have to die or suffer debilitating illness, from an entirely preventable problem?