As the summer heat sets in across the country, so does the risk of contracting potentially deadly mosquito-borne viruses.
Now that Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE) virus, West Nile/Kunjin virus and Japanese encephalitis (JE) have been detected in mosquito populations in multiple states, authorities say it is essential that people take steps to protect themselves and their protect loved ones.
MVE and JE viruses can cause inflammation of the brain, leading to symptoms such as fever, headache, drowsiness and confusion. In rare cases, they can lead to permanent brain damage or death.
“Only a small proportion of people infected with the virus will experience symptoms including fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea and muscle aches,” said Richard Broome, executive director of Health Protection NSW.
“Among those who get a serious infection, some may die or have lifelong neurological complications.”
An infection with West Nile virus – including the Kunjin virus – is an illness that can cause mild flu-like symptoms. In rare cases, the infection can lead to serious complications such as meningitis and encephalitis.
MVE was recently discovered in mosquitoes in the northwest Victorian town of Mildura and in the far west of New South Wales.
SA Health found mosquitoes carrying the viruses in the Mallee region, west of Adelaide, last week.
Multiple cases of JE have been detected in recent months following the floods.
The prevalence of MVE virus and West Nile/Kunjin virus in mosquito populations means the risk of human cases in the coming weeks is high, authorities say.
On Saturday, Victorian health authorities said a “large number” of detections from across northern Victoria were in the Mildura area.
“These results mean that the MVE virus is increasing in the mosquito population and indicate a significant risk to people in these areas, especially Mildura,” Clare Looker, acting chief health officer for the Victorian Department of Health, said in a statement.
“Residents and people visiting Mildura are strongly advised to take measures to reduce the risk of mosquito bites.”
Deputy Chief Health Officer Deborah Friedman told the TBEN that detections had increased “week after week,” with “multiple detections coming in thick and fast.”
She said Mildura was dealing with a “really concentrated area of risk” and it was important for the community to be prepared when cases started to emerge in people.
“Protection against mosquito bites shouldn’t just be something people consider, it should be something everyone takes on to protect themselves,” she said.
Experts say that to protect yourself from JE and MVE, it’s important to take precautions against mosquito bites.
This includes using repellents, wearing long-sleeved clothing, and staying indoors during peak mosquito times (sunrise and dusk). It’s also important to remove standing water around your home, as this is where mosquitoes breed.
Vaccinations are available for Japanese encephalitis, but not for the other infections.
More information on mosquito-borne viruses can be found on the Department of Health and Aged Care website and the NSW Health website.
Another important step to protect yourself is to stay informed. Keep an eye out for updates from public health officials and follow their recommendations.
State health departments often post information about outbreaks on their websites and through their social media channels.
If there is an outbreak in your area, be aware of any quarantine or travel restrictions that may be in place.
As of January 2021, about 45 people have contracted Japanese encephalitis in Australia, according to the most recent government data.
They include 35 definite cases and 10 probable cases in all states and territories except Tasmania and WA.