Department of Microbiology, The University of Western Australia, Queen Elizabeth II Medical Centre, Environmental Health Branch, Health Department of Western Australia, Nedlands, Western Australia, Australia
Outbreaks of mosquito-borne Ross River (RR) virus disease (epidemic polyarthritis) occur suddenly in the arid north and interior of the State of Western Australia, often within a few weeks of heavy rainfall. Between outbreaks, these regions may undergo long periods of drought, with little or no mosquito or arbovirus activity. The means by which RR virus is reintroduced or reactivated in these areas when environmental conditions favor mosquito-borne virus activity are unknown. In this paper, we describe isolations of RR virus from eight mosquito species trapped at two different locations, one coastal and one inland, in the arid Pilbara region of Western Australia, prior to outbreaks of epidemic polyarthritis. The isolation of RR virus has not been previously reported for five of these species and the isolations from the other three species are new records for Western Australia. The timing and number of isolations of RR virus from Aedes (Ochlerotatus) vigilax (Skuse, 1889) implicate that species as a vector of the virus on the Pilbara coast. Significantly, RR virus was isolated from pools of male Ae. vigilax and male Ae. (Macleaya) tremulus (Theobald, 1903) mosquitoes. This is the first report of RR virus (or other Australian arbovirus) isolates from wild-caught male mosquitoes. Both Ae. vigilax and Ae. tremulus have desiccation-resistant eggs that can survive long periods of drought, making them ideal candidates for the overwintering of arboviruses. The findings implicate vertical transmission as a means of persistence of RR virus in arid regions of Australia and therefore offer a likely explanation for the sudden recurrence of virus activity after heavy rains.