As if the people of northern NSW and southeast Queensland didn’t have enough to worry about, Japanese encephalitis has now been detected in the region. Residents are being urged to take extra precautions against this disease and other mosquito-borne illnesses in the wake of severe flooding and additional follow-up rain.
Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said, ‘Mosquitoes carry multiple and potentially dangerous illnesses, and people in rain-affected areas are particularly vulnerable right now given these conditions are ripe for mosquito activity.
‘Some of the most common mosquito-borne illnesses are Ross River virus, Barmah Forest virus and malaria, though these are only some of what can be spread by a mosquito bite,’ she said.
‘Recently, Japanese encephalitis virus was detected in samples taken from a commercial piggery in southern Queensland. There have also been detections in piggeries in New South Wales and Victoria.
‘Disease caused by the virus occurs most commonly in pigs and horses but can be transmitted to humans from mosquito bites,’ said the minister.
‘Most people infected with the virus are asymptomatic, but it can cause fever, headaches, rashes and – in severe cases – serious neurological illness including convulsions,’ said Minister D’Ath.
‘An expected rise in mosquito activity in south-east Queensland means there may be a higher chance of the virus being transmitted now, so people must protect themselves.’
Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Dr John Gerrard said people could take simple but effective steps to minimise the risk of mosquito bites.
‘Applying insect repellent, wearing loose clothes to cover arms and legs and wearing closed-in shoes can significantly increase protection against mosquito bites,’ he said.
‘This is critical for people who may need to clean-up in and around their properties affected by recent rainfall and flooding because standing water allows mosquitoes to breed in large numbers.
‘If it is safe to do so, people can reduce potential breeding sites by removing any standing pools of water around their house and yard, including clearing debris from ditches and filling in holes and vehicle wheel ruts.
‘Most mosquito bites will result in no issues or symptoms, but it is important people speak with their doctor if they experience body aches, diarrhoea, headaches, fever, feelings of nausea, or any other notable symptoms,’ said Dr Gerrard.
The Federal Minister for Agriculture and Northern Australia, David Littleproud, said the virus had been detected in a number of piggeries across eastern Australia, and there have also been confirmed cases of Japanese encephalitis in humans.
‘JE is a mosquito-borne viral disease that can cause reproductive losses and encephalitis in some animals,’ said Minister Littleproud. ‘We’re asking pig and horse owners in eastern and southern Australia to be on the lookout for signs of JE in their animals.
‘This is a wake-up call that biosecurity is everyone’s responsibility. It’s on all of us now to do our bit to protect our animals and ourselves,’ he said.
Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt said, ‘Work is underway for targeted vaccinations, however, prevention is always better than a cure and there are simple steps we can all take to avoid our exposure to infected mosquitos.
“People in areas of high mosquito activity in Eastern Australia should use mosquito repellent containing picaridin or DEET on all exposed skin.
‘Wear long, loose fitting clothing when outside, and ensure accommodation, including tents, are properly fitted with mosquito nettings or screens,’ he said. ‘We will continue to meet with health authorities in the states and territories to progress the public health response to this disease.’
For more information visit www.outbreak.gov.au.