JCU Associate Professor Jeffrey Warner is a microbiologist who has spent decades researching tuberculosis and melioidosis, two enigmatic tropical infectious diseases. Jeffrey says understanding these diseases, and others like them, is the key to supporting healthier communities in the Tropics.
Jeffrey says that he was always aware of the significance of tropical infectious diseases and wanted to undertake research in the Tropics; working and studying at JCU enabled him to do this. “Before I came to JCU, I worked in Sydney in medical laboratories and pathology for well over a decade. I always wanted to do research, so I started my PhD at JCU as a mature age student. I’ve been here now teaching and researching for the past 25 years,” he says.
In recognizing the importance of research into tropical infectious diseases, we put the spotlight on tuberculosis and the urgent need to invest in resources to fight against this disease. Jeffrey highlights the importance of laboratory resources in places such as regional Papua New Guinea, located in the remote Tropics. Tuberculosis cases in remote Papua New Guinea are almost double the national incidence at 700-900 cases per every 100,000 people every year.
However, Jeffrey says tuberculosis is just one disease affecting individuals in the rural Tropics, where his groundbreaking PhD research focused on melioidosis. "Part of my PhD involved establishing labs in Papua New Guinea and conducting research there. This is where my research career really began. We revealed the presence of melioidosis in a remote community in the western province of Papua New Guinea for the first time.”
Melioidosis is a disease caused by a bacterium that usually live in the soil and groundwater, often appearing after intense periods of rain; it can cause fever and inflammation and is life-threatening.
In a recent journal article, Jeffrey and fellow JCU researcher Catherine Rush discussed how, in communities where tuberculosis was endemic, individuals with melioidosis were being mistakenly diagnosed and treated for tuberculosis.
“Both of these diseases mimic each other in terms of presentation. But they need to be treated very differently with a different set of medication,” he says. “So, if a child in a remote community like Balimo, in the Western Province of Papua New Guinea presents at a clinic with the signs and symptoms typically associated with tuberculosis, they are treated with medication for tuberculosis. In most instances they respond positively to treatment; but sometimes that isn’t the case.”
Jeffrey’s research highlights the importance of supporting laboratories in the rural tropics with the capacity for accurate and early diagnosis, leading to life-saving treatments for people in these communities.