Mosquito :: Mosquito borne disease risk spreads in north of Western Australia

The Department of Health reminded people living and holidaying in the north of Western Australia to take extra care against mosquito bites, following evidence of the spread of mosquito-borne viruses in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions.

Department of Health Medical Entomologist Dr Mike Lindsay said the Department?s surveillance program (undertaken by The University of Western Australia) showed that Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE) and Kunjin viruses were active near a number of towns and communities in both regions.

In particular, the program has detected the first activity for the season at Karratha, Broome and Derby, as well as continuing activity in the inland Pilbara and east Kimberley.

?It is unusual to detect these viruses so far into the dry season,? Dr Lindsay said.

?Mosquito numbers in most areas of northern WA are quite low, but clearly there are still enough around to allow the viruses to remain active?.

?Murray Valley encephalitis virus and Kunjin virus are both carried by mosquitoes, and while the risk of being infected and becoming unwell is low, the illnesses can be severe and people should take sensible precautions to avoid mosquito bites,? he said.

?Infection with Kunjin virus can cause symptoms that are similar to Ross River virus disease, such as swollen and aching joints, fever and rash.

?However in rare cases, Kunjin like MVE, can cause more severe symptoms which include headache, neck stiffness, fever, delirium and coma.

?Although uncommon, MVE can also result in permanent brain damage or even death.

?In young children, fever might be the only early sign, so parents should see their doctor if concerned, and particularly if their child experiences drowsiness, floppiness, irritability, poor feeding, or general distress.?

People most likely to be affected are newcomers to affected regions, such as babies, young children, tourists or new employees, but anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek medical advice quickly.

Dr Lindsay said the warning particularly applied to people living, visiting or camping near swamp and river systems during the evening and night in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions.

However, mosquito breeding in northern WA at this time of year is also often associated with man-made or artificial water bodies such as dams, sewage lagoons, irrigation areas or domestic containers.

?Some mosquitoes that breed in these habitats can transmit mosquito-borne viruses, so it is important to prevent or control breeding in man-made situations where possible,? Dr Lindsay said.

There are no specific cures or vaccines for any of these viruses so it is very important that people take care to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes.

People do not need to alter their plans to visit the north-west as a result of this warning. However, it is important to avoid mosquito bites by taking a few simple steps, such as:

avoiding outdoor exposure from dusk and at night in all areas of high mosquito activity;

wearing protective (long, loose-fitting) clothing when outdoors; and

using a personal repellent containing diethyl toluamide (DEET) or picaridin. The most effective and long-lasting formulations are lotions or gels. Most natural or organic repellents are not as effective as DEET or picaridin;

ensuring insect screens are installed and completely mosquito-proof: use mosquito nets and mosquito-proof tents;

ensuring infants and children are adequately protected against mosquito bites, preferably with suitable clothing, bed nets or other forms of insect screening.

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