Valuable learning experience on testing for vector-borne diseases
Investigation and Diagnostic Centre -
New Zealand does not have any of the serious vector-borne diseases that affect people and animals elsewhere in the world. Mosquitoes capable of transmitting some of these diseases are present here, but as far as we know the disease agents are absent. It is important that we prevent the entry of both the agents and any new vectors, and develop systems for the early detection of any new vectors or vector-borne diseases should they enter the country.
As part of a collaborative initiative with Environmental Science and Research (ESR), New Zealand Biosecure Entomology Laboratory (NZBEL), Landcare and other organisations, the Investigation and Diagnostic Centre (IDC), Wallaceville, is developing tests and methodologies for the early detection of insect-borne viruses (arboviruses), such as Ross River virus and West Nile virus. Funding for this work has been received from the Foundation for Science, Research and Technology Cross-Departmental Research Pool (CDRP) and from MAF operational research funds.
Collaboration with overseas laboratories is an essential component of New Zealand's disease preparedness capability. As part of the CDRP vector-borne disease project, a team of IDC's Animal Health Laboratory staff (Della Orr, Megan Lynch and Judy Jenner, pictured) travelled, in June, to Australia. They visited Sydney's Arbovirus laboratory, Institute of Clinical Pathology and Medical Research (ICPMR), Westmead hospital, to learn about tests for vector-borne disease.
The staff travelled to learn a range of new immunological and virological techniques, for the detection and identification of vector-borne alpha- and flaviviruses (such as Ross River virus and Murray Valley encephalitis virus, respectively). They worked alongside Dr Linda Hueston, Head of the Arbovirus and Emerging Diseases Unit, and Mr John Haniotis, from the Department of Medical Entomology.
With the guidance of ICPMR staff, the team worked on Ross River virus blood tests and learned new methods to grow a range of arboviruses in cell cultures. They returned with many insights into running these test procedures and obtained useful information about alternative consumable items, reagents, suppliers, laboratory procedures, safety practices and equipment used at Westmead hospital for arbovirus work.
The team were shown the newly completed compact PC4 facility that will enable the staff in the Molecular Microbiology group to work on risk group 4 biologicals (those requiring the highest level of containment security).
The team were also able to observe the research and surveillance initiatives managed from the hospital. The Westmead Medical Entomology department serves as a National Reference Laboratory for insects and other arthropods of medical and health importance. The research focus of this group is on the biology, ecology and disease involvement of insects, particularly mosquitoes and mosquito-borne pathogens such as arboviruses. The mosquito work includes the arbovirus surveillance programme for New South Wales and trapping and identification of mosquitoes during the warmer, wetter nine months of the year.
There is also an extensive insectory, where a range of insects, including a variety of mosquito species, bedbugs, nematodes and leeches, are bred for virus competency work, research and medical purposes.
Associated with the hospital is the Millenium Institute, which is closely affiliated with both Westmead Hospital and the University of Sydney.
"This state-of-the-art research institute possesses a mouth-watering range of diagnostic facilities," comments IDC staff member Judy Jenner.
"The staff at Westmead were extremely helpful and willing to share knowledge and materials to get these tests up and running in New Zealand. Linda Hueston, in particular, has a wealth of knowledge and experience in arbovirus and emerging infections. She went out of her way to help us and to share her expertise and reagents.
"Collaboration with Westmead is an important component of our capability for arbovirus detection and identification and we hope to be able to invite a member of Linda's team to work with us in New Zealand if the opportunity for an exchange arises in the future."
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Page last updated: 30 April 2008