Tourism Most At Risk From Disease Carrying Mosquitoes

  • Simon Upton

New Zealand's tourism industry is most at risk from the economic threat posed by the potential introduction of new species of disease carrying mosquitoes according to a recent report, Minister for Biosecurity Simon Upton announced today.

The report, prepared by the Ministry of Health, considers that disabling or life threatening mosquito-borne diseases most likely to threaten New Zealand are Ross River Fever (Epidemic Polyarthritis), Dengue Fever, Barmah Forest Virus and Japanese Encephalitis.

Mr Upton says the report estimates that a single outbreak of Dengue Fever could cost New Zealand in the order of $250 million. While costs associated with health care and lost productivity would be significant, the greatest loss is likely to be in the form of foreign earnings. The threat of serious disease would be a disincentive for tourists and others to come to New Zealand.

The report identifies a number of principles to guide the Government in its approach to meeting this threat. Proposals to be reviewed by the Biosecurity Council include:

establishing and maintaining a nationally co-ordinated approach to exclude and control exotic mosquitoes of public health significance

enhancing existing border control arrangements, surveillance and ready reaction systems to enable an early, cost effective response to the introduction of a new species of exotic mosquito

standardising surveillance methodology throughout New Zealand and undertaking surveillance according to the risk of introduction

preparing a national pest management strategy to manage and eradicate any exotic mosquitoes of public health significance

establishing mosquito control options, especially those proven effective in other countries with minimal side effects or negative health, economic or environmental consequences.

Mr Upton says the first step is to improve the country's biosecurity infrastructure to counter this threat. He says there needs to be more intersectoral collaboration, information gathering, research and development of the regulatory environment. In this regard the Ministry of Health has already made a commitment to:

develop and implement a revised mosquito surveillance plan update guidelines on health (quarantine) regulations for the public health service prepare a draft national pest management strategy with a view to public consultation revise the operational agreement between the Ministries of Health and Agriculture and Forestry
foster a health sector capacity to enable prompt and accurate identification of mosquitoes of public health significance maintain contingency plans for reacting to public health emergency and disease outbreaks

Copies of the Ministry of Health report to the Minister for Biosecurity, entitled Exclusion and Control of Exotic Mosquitoes of Public Health Significance (June 1997) may be obtained from the Information Officer, Corporate Communications, Ministry of Health (04) 496 2277.