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Mosquito-Borne Disease Spreads To Pilbara

Armen Hareyan's picture

The Department of Health is urging people living and holidaying in WA's north to take extra care against mosquito bites due to the increased risk of mosquito-borne viruses in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions.

Director of Environmental Health Jim Dodds said that the Department's surveillance program (undertaken by The University of Western Australia) had detected activity of the rare, but potentially fatal, Murray Valley Encephalitis (MVE) virus in the Pilbara region for the first time this wet season.

"MVE disease is carried by mosquitoes and, although rare, it can be fatal or cause severe symptoms, so it is important that people take precautions to avoid mosquito bites, particularly following the widespread rains in the Pilbara over the past week," he 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."

Mr Dodds 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.

"Wet season activity of mosquito-borne viruses now appears to be well underway in the north, with a few reported cases of Ross River and Barmah Forest viruses as well," he said.

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"There are no specific cures or vaccines for MVE, 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 during the evening and night through the north-east Kimberley and mosquito-prone areas of the Pilbara.

However, the viruses may be active elsewhere in the north of the State, especially where mosquitoes are abundant.

Mr Dodds said controlling mosquitoes in most rural regions of WA was generally not possible because of the large size and inaccessibility of natural mosquito breeding habitat.

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.