Residents in NSW, Victoria and Queensland are being warned to protect themselves from mosquito bites after the detection of a virus that can turn into a potentially life-threatening condition.
Traces of the mosquito-borne Japanese encephalitis (JE) virus were found in samples from commercial pig farms at five locations in southern and western NSW, indicating the disease is likely circulating in the mosquito population, a NSW Health spokesman said.
Additional traces were also found in the northern Victorian town of Echuca and in southern Queensland.
The JE virus is spread through mosquito bites and can affect humans and animals and develop into encephalitis, which can be “potentially life-threatening”, Victorian health authorities said.
“Less than one per cent of people infected with JE experience symptoms, which typically include fever, joint pain, and rash,” NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant said.
“Occasionally, JE can cause severe a neurological illness with headache, convulsions and reduced consciousness.”
Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton said there were no confirmed human cases of the JE virus strain in the state.
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Professor Sutton said anyone who develops a sudden onset of fever, headache and vomiting should see their doctor immediately.
“People with these symptoms can deteriorate over just a few short days, including suffering a loss of co-ordination, disorientation, generalised weakness and in some cases issues with movement which can last for years,” he said.
The virus can’t be passed between humans and the simplest step to take is to avoid being bitten, he added.
“We can all protect ourselves by avoiding mosquito bites, including covering up, wearing loose fitting clothing and using mosquito repellents,” Professor Sutton said.
People with increased exposure to mosquitoes may be at a higher risk of infection, particularly those in regional areas and who work with or are in contact with pigs, and people camping, working or spending time outdoors in these regions.
Children aged under five and older people who are infected with JE are at a higher risk of developing more severe illness, such as encephalitis.
Simple actions to avoid mosquito bites include:
- Cover up as much as possible with light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing and covered footwear when outside
- Use an effective insect repellent on exposed skin and reapply within a few hours. The best mosquito repellents contain Diethyl Toluamide (DEET), Picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus
- Use insecticide sprays, vapour dispensing units (indoors) and mosquito coils (outdoors) to clear rooms or repel mosquitoes from an area
- Cover all windows, doors, vents and other entrances with insect screens
- Remove any water-holding containers outside the house where mosquitoes can breed