A new study by researchers at the Australian Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre for Emerging Infectious Disease (AB-CRC) has shown that global disease hot spots, where new and unknown plagues are most likely to erupt, spread in an arc to Australia's north.
The researchers said that Northern Australia is surrounded by a "ring of fire" where new human and animal plagues are likely to erupt without warning.
"We're in the front line for outbreaks of diseases like SARS, bird flu, Nipah virus, enterovirus 71 and chikungunya which infect both people and animals. Such diseases are most likely to emerge in our region," News.com.au quoted AB-CRC chief executive Dr Stephen Prowse, as saying.
"The study highlights the vital importance of developing and maintaining effective disease surveillance in our region as often the only defence against a new disease is to spot it early, before it spreads.
"However it also offers scope to anticipate where new plagues could arise," he added.
Dr Peter Daszak and colleagues of the Consortium for Conservation Medicine in New York, a partner of the AB-CRC, conducted the study of global disease hotspots.
"We've developed an earthquake zone map for emerging diseases. It shows which countries are most likely to be on the front line of an emerging pandemic," he said.
"We now have a way to predict the places from where the next HIV, SARS or avian influenza is likely to emerge," he added.
He said a risk map showed Australia was surrounded to the north by countries that were disease hot spots.
"This means Australia needs to be forward thinking in its approach to biosecurity risk.
"New and emerging diseases rarely have any form of treatment and death rates can be quite high as in the case of Nipah virus which kills about half of those who contract it.
"The best course is to stamp out the bushfire before it takes hold and spreads." he added.