Mosquito-Borne Disease Risk Spreads To Pilbara Region

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The Department of Health has reiterated its warning to people living and holidaying in WA’s north to take extra care against mosquito bites because of the risk of mosquito-borne viruses.

Medical Entomologist Dr Michael Lindsay said that the Department’s surveillance program (undertaken by The University of Western Australia) had now detected activity of the rare, but potentially fatal, Murray Valley Encephalitis (MVE) virus in the Pilbara region for the first time this wet season.

Kunjin virus, a related mosquito-borne virus, which can cause milder human disease has also been detected in the Pilbara for the first time this wet season.

This new activity is in addition to recent and ongoing activity of MVE virus at several locations in the Kimberley and indicates that the area of virus activity has increased following the widespread rains in the north of WA over the past few weeks.

“MVE is a rare disease but can be very severe or fatal, so it is important that people take particular care to avoid mosquito bites for the next few weeks,” Dr Lindsay said.

“Initial symptoms of MVE include fever, drowsiness, headache, stiff neck, nausea and dizziness and people experiencing these symptoms should seek medical advice quickly.

“In severe cases, people may experience fits, lapse into a coma, may be left with permanent brain damage or die.”

“In young children, fever might be the only early sign, so parents should see their doctor if concerned, and particularly if their child is drowsy, floppy, irritable, feeding poorly or is generally distressed.”

Dr Lindsay said people most likely to be affected by the MVE virus were newcomers to affected regions, such as babies, young children, tourists or new employees, but anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek medical advice quickly.

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“Wet season activity of other mosquito-borne viruses is also continuing in the north, with more than 25 cases of Ross River and Barmah Forest viruses being reported from the Kimberley and Pilbara since the start of the year,” he said.

“There are no specific cures or vaccines for MVE, Kunjin, Ross River or Barmah Forest viruses so it is very important that people take care to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes.”

The warning particularly applies to people living, visiting or camping near swamp and river systems and rain affected areas during the evening and night through the Kimberley and Pilbara. However, the viruses may be active elsewhere in the north of the State, especially where mosquitoes are abundant.

“Controlling mosquitoes in most rural regions of WA is generally not possible because of the large size and inaccessibility of natural mosquito breeding habitat,” he said.

“It is also important that communities prevent mosquitoes breeding in man-made sites around the home or workplace because these types of mosquitoes can also be disease carriers in some situations.”

People do not need to alter their plans to visit the Kimberley or Pilbara but it is important to avoid mosquito bites by taking a few simple steps, such as:

* avoiding outdoor exposure from dusk and at night

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

* 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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