A dengue fever epidemic has taken hold in the popular tourist destination of Cairns in northern Queensland and authorities fear the deadly disease could spread south, further threatening the country’s already ailing tourism industry.
Cases of the mosquito-borne disease, normally associated with third-world countries, have been growing during the summer months.
The number of people infected in Cairns, which is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, now stands at 226. The resort centre of Townsville, 200 miles further south, has also reported a spike in cases, with 31 people infected so far.
Two cases of the disease are circulating.
Babies and children are most at risk from the debilatating disease. Symptoms include chills, backache and sore eyes. As the disease progresses sufferers experience painful aching in the legs and joints and a temperature as high as 104° F (40° C). Some also suffer swollen
glands and a pink rash.
The Queensland government has vowed to halt the march of the disease south, telling residents to avoid stagnant water. Earlier this week it announced it would issue mosquito repellent to all school children in the state’s north. Extermination teams have also been spraying parks, schools and caravan sites.
No one has died from the disease yet, but the government fears this summer could be worse than the last bad outbreak in 2004, when 800 cases were reported and two people died. The dengue season started three months early this year and 20 cases are now being reported each day.
The mosquitoes breed in stagnant water and residents are being urged to clear blocked gutters, empty buckets, containers, wheelbarrows, pot plants and anything else that carries water.
News of the disease could deterr tourists from travelling to the Queensland coast, whic is already suffering from falling tourist numbers as a result of the global financial crisis.