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Victorian man dies from Japanese encephalitis

A man aged in his 60s from northern Victoria has died from Japanese encephalitis.

Victoria’s health department said an autopsy had confirmed he died from the mosquito-borne virus, with an investigation now underway to find out how he became infected.

There have been seven confirmed cases of the virus in Victoria.

This is the first death.

The virus spreads by mosquitoes carrying it from either pigs or water birds, but it doesn’t transmit from animal to animal, or animal to human, or human to human.

The number of piggeries with confirmed cases had increased from 14 on Friday to 21 by Monday.

They included 13 in NSW, one in Queensland, six in Victoria and one in South Australia.

A Japanese encephalitis vaccine is available and is recommended for people who work with or around pigs, including transport workers or vets who visit pig farms.

However, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud was unable to say how many people had been vaccinated when he was asked on Sky News on Tuesday.

He said it was a “matter for the states”.

Feeding mosquito
Camera IconThere are currently about 12,000 vaccine doses in Australia. Credit: News Corp Australia

“We handed them all over and obviously the states have worked through with particularly those working in the piggery industry,” he said.

“They’ve been targeting some local communities, but local health authorities are working through that.

“We’re trying to act within both Health and Agriculture to move quickly to get vaccines, but also to make sure that councils are doing work around trying to eradicate mosquitoes in some of those areas where there’s water laying.”

He said they had about 6000 vaccines in storage before the outbreak had even hit and another 6000 had come in from Korea.

“We’ve ordered a whole lot more to make sure that if this does get further than the 21 piggeries across the east coast and South Australia, that we will be able to target this,” he said.

It comes after NSW Health revealed a child was initially taken to intensive care with Japanese encephalitis and was recovering in hospital on Monday.

Another NSW man was in a serious condition in ICU after being infected.

“Both people are residents of the NSW-Victoria border region – a man from the Corowa area and a child from the Wentworth area in the far south west of NSW,” NSW Health said.

A woman was also fighting for life in a Brisbane hospital on Saturday after contracting Japanese encephalitis.

“We have had Japanese encephalitis in this country since the 1990s and what’s happened is that migratory birds that are normally up in Northern Australia have come down into eastern Australia, well down the coast and have actually been in waterways,” Mr Littleproud told Sky News.

“Mosquitoes have actually transmitted this to particularly pigs, where humans can then get it from mosquitoes off those pigs.”

Most people who contract Japanese encephalitis will have no or very mild symptoms and fully recover, but anyone who develops a sudden onset of fever, headache, vomiting as well as seizures or disorientation should seek urgent medical attention.

Children aged under five and older people who become infected are at a higher risk of developing more severe illness.

NSW health authorities first put out a public health alert on February 26 about the mosquito virus, saying it had been detected in samples from commercial pig farms at five locations in southern and western NSW.

Victoria put out an alert that same day noting they had found evidence of the virus in pigs in Echuca.

The federal government has not released how many people have been vaccinated.
Camera IconThe federal government has not released how many people have been vaccinated. Credit: istock

The federal health department and Greg Hunt both declined to answer how many people had been vaccinated for Japanese encephalitis on Monday, but noted vaccinations were only beginning this week.

“It is estimated that there are currently sufficient supplies of JE vaccines in Australia to vaccinate the initial priority groups,” a spokesperson said.

“Vaccinations are beginning this week and are being managed by the states and territories.”

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