Cathy Zeiger - a strong voice in her community | World Mosquito Program Skip to main content
Cairns, Australia

Published date: 01 Nov 2019

According to Cathy, anything that improves the lives of the people of Cairns and beyond should be supported. She moved to Cairns 30 years ago and has been making a difference in the community ever since. 

Through Council, Cathy was introduced to the work of the World Mosquito Program (then Eliminate Dengue) – she supported the program for the community, as a Council representative and as the Chair of the Community Reference Group in her area. She visited schools, talked to the media and updated the community regularly on progress.

“The way the World Mosquito Program staff communicated everything was incredible. I’ve never been involved with anything that has been communicated so well, ever,” she said. “Community engagement was right there at the grass roots level. The World Mosquito Program engaged directly and people felt like they were part of the solution, that they were making a difference.”

Cathy felt privileged to be part of the ground-breaking initiative and fascinated by the Wolbachia method: that Wolbachia bacteria occur naturally in 60 per cent of insects and can reduce the transmission of dengue and other viruses when introduced in the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

“What an incredible thing to discover, and then to develop and perfect the process of putting the Wolbachia into mosquito eggs, propagating the mosquitoes and releasing them in Cairns, distributing traps to people’s houses, checking them, collecting and analysing data, communicating with the community, building relationships and getting the message out.”
Cathy Zeiger
Councillor for Cairns Regional Council

Before the Wolbachia mosquito releases, there was a real fear in Cairns of getting dengue fever because it can cause debilitating illness for weeks the first time it’s contracted, and is even more dangerous the next time. Cathy remembers spraying her legs and hoping that she would not be bitten when she worked as a receptionist in north Cairns when there was a dengue outbreak.

“I’m thankful I never got it – it was a huge relief to know that the World Mosquito Program work means I never will. No wonder everyone was onboard,” she said.

Cathy is also thankful that the Wolbachia mosquito releases in Cairns mean that outbreaks of disease caused by other mosquito-borne viruses are less likely, like Zika.

“In 2016, Zika suddenly hit the media. We saw cases from overseas that resulted in terrible effects caused by the virus, of microcephaly in children. And the mothers hadn’t had any symptoms – that is terrifying. It is a great relief to know that there have been no significant outbreaks in Cairns since the releases.”

It’s easy to be swept up in Cathy’s enthusiasm for the program. She’s seen the results and is well aware of the positive and sustained effects in her community and globally.

Learn more about our work in Australia.

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