With many grey nomads’ thoughts beginning to turn to heading north for the cooler months, the emergence of the mosquito-borne Zika virus is causing increasing concern.
Most worrying for many has been the relative lack of information about the rapidly spreading disease, which appears to have caught most experts by surprise. While there have been a handful of cases reported in Queensland, these have apparently been restricted to people who have contracted the virus while overseas.
There is no evidence to suggest that local mosquitoes have yet become carriers. Dr Cameron Webb, Medical Entomologist from UNSW and NSW Health Pathology, is reassuring nomads there is no cause for alarm at this stage.
“Thousands of people arrive in Australia every year carrying dengue virus or malaria parasites but just because they arrive infected, it doesn’t mean they’ll infect local mosquitoes,” he said. “At the moment, the only mosquitoes we know that can transmit Zika virus are only found in north Queensland and it is unlikely that any of the mosquitoes found elsewhere in Australia can spread the virus.” While the possible link between Zika and birth defects in Brazil has caused concern, there is no definitive evidence that Zika is to blame.
There is much not known about this emerging infection but it seems deaths are rare and it is believed only one-in-five people infected develop symptoms. These may include mild fever, conjunctivitis, headache, joint pain, and a rash.
Like many grey nomads, Madelon L, has been keeping an eye on the Zika situation but says she will take sensible precautions and keep travelling.
“We try to minimise mosquito bites but it is very hard to be 100% bite-free,” she said. “We would listen to any of the latest warnings but not visiting the north is not really an option.”
Although it is known that many mosquito-borne diseases can seriously impact those over 50, Dr Webb agrees that caution is the best way forward for grey nomads.
“There is no vaccine against Zika virus or many of the other mosquito-borne viruses circulating in Australia from time to time,” he said. “The only sure fire way to avoid contracting illness caused by Ross River virus, Barmah Forest virus or dengue virus is to avoid mosquito bites.”
And that means travellers are increasingly using insect repellents, mozzie coils, and plug-in units that release insecticides … and they are screening caravan annexes appropriately.
“We definitely see a spike in customer engagement with our Good Riddance brand and also in sales when there is mention of an outbreak of any mosquito-related viruses in the media,” said Jeannie Lynch from skincare company, Natural Wonders. “Everyone is keen on wearing insect repellent when the mozzie or midgie plagues hit.”