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8 August 2011

Mosquito-borne disease risk continues in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions

The Department of Health is reminding people living and travelling in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions of WA to continue to take care against mosquito bites following further detections of Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE) virus.

Department of Health Medical Entomologist Sue Harrington said that the Department's surveillance program (undertaken by The University of Western Australia) had detected continued activity of the rare, but potentially fatal, MVE in the Kimberley and Pilbara.

"It is unusual to detect MVE virus so far into the dry season and it indicates ongoing and persistent activity of the virus," Ms Harrington said.

Nine Western Australians have been diagnosed with MVE contracted in northern and central WA this season. One person has died and another possible case of MVE infection is being investigated.

"Murray Valley encephalitis virus is 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," Ms Harrington said.

"Mosquito numbers are likely to be quite low, but our monitoring results show that it is still important to take measures to avoid mosquito bites," she 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, and 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, particularly if their child experiences drowsiness, floppiness, irritability, poor feeding, or general distress.

Ms Harrington said that anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek medical advice quickly.

"There are no specific cures or vaccines for Murray Valley encephalitis virus, so it is very important that people take care to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes."

Ms Harrington 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 locations in the Kimberley or Pilbara regions, 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
  • applying a personal repellent containing diethyl toluamide (DEET) or picaridin to exposed skin or clothing. The most effective and long-lasting formulations are lotions or gels. Most natural or organic repellents are not as effective as DEET or picaridin or need to be reapplied more frequently
  • ensuring insect screens are installed and completely mosquito-proof: use of mosquito nets and mosquito-proof tents is recommended
  • ensuring infants and children are adequately protected against mosquito bites, preferably with suitable clothing, bed nets or other forms of insect screening
Media contact: (08) 9222 4333

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