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31 January 2012

Mosquito-borne virus warning for regional WA

The Department of Health has expanded its warning to residents and travellers in the Pilbara and Gascoyne regions to take additional precautions to avoid mosquito bites.

The warning follows detection of the Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE) virus in the Pilbara; and Kunjin virus in the Gascoyne regions of Western Australia.

The Department of Health's surveillance program (undertaken by The University of Western Australia) had previously detected activity of the MVE virus in the Kimberley but it has now also spread to the Pilbara.

Similarly, the program had detected Kunjin virus in the Wheatbelt and the warning is now extended to include the Gascoyne.

Department of Health Acting Medical Entomologist Dr Peter Neville said above average rainfall and temperatures over the last couple of months had resulted in large numbers of mosquitoes that could be carrying these potentially deadly viruses.

"Recent flooding from cyclone Heidi and the development of another low pressure system of the North-West coast may continue to flood low lying areas producing mosquito breeding," Dr Neville said.

"Murray Valley Encephalitis virus is a rare but potentially serious disease with initial symptoms including fever, drowsiness, headache, stiff neck, nausea and dizziness."

"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.”

Dr Neville said Kunjin virus usually caused a milder illness than MVE virus, but in rare cases also causes severe symptoms, including headache, neck stiffness, fever, delirium and coma.

Ross River virus (RRV) and Barmah Forest virus (BFV) remain active, particularly in coastal areas between Perth and Esperance.

"Local Government mosquito management programs are in place in many parts of WA, but the sheer size and inaccessibility of natural mosquito breeding habitat in regional areas of WA means that it is often not possible to reduce mosquito populations to levels that won’t pose some risk to health," Dr Neville said.

People living or travelling across WA do not need to change their travel plans but should take extra precautions to avoid mosquito bites, such as:

  • avoiding outdoor exposure around dawn and dusk (especially the first few hours after dark)
  • 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. Natural or organic repellents are generally not as effective as DEET or picaridin or need to be reapplied more frequently
  • 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.

Media contact: 9222 4333

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