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9 May 2014

Mosquito-borne disease risk following Gascoyne and Pilbara flooding

The Department of Health is reminding residents and travellers to take additional precautions to avoid mosquito bites following heavy rainfall and localised flooding in the Gascoyne and Pilbara regions of WA in the last two weeks.

WA Health's Managing Scientist Mike Lindsay said Ross River virus (RRV) was active at above-average levels in the north-west during February and March this year.

"Although case numbers decreased during April, the latest rains in the Gascoyne and Pilbara may extend the mosquito breeding season, and in turn lead to increased activity of RRV or other mosquito-borne viruses over the next few weeks," Dr Lindsay said.

Symptoms of RRV disease include painful or swollen joints, sore muscles, skin rashes, fever, fatigue and headaches. Symptoms can last for weeks or months and the only way to properly diagnose this and other mosquito-borne viruses is by having a specific blood test. There are no cures or vaccines for these viruses so it is very important that people take care to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes.

Dr Lindsay said it was not feasible to keep mosquitoes and other biting insects below nuisance levels following widespread and heavy rainfall that inundates extensive mosquito breeding habitat. He added that it was important that people also take their own precautions to avoid mosquito bites.

"People do not need to alter their plans to visit the Gascoyne or Pilbara regions as a result of this warning, but it is important to avoid mosquito bites by taking a few simple steps," Dr Lindsay said.

 To avoid mosquito bites the Department of Health recommends people:

  • avoid outdoor exposure around dawn and early evening
  • wear protective (long, loose-fitting, light-coloured) clothing when outdoors
  • apply 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
  • use mosquito coils and mosquito lanterns and applying barrier sprays containing bifenthrin in patio and outdoor areas around houses
  • ensure insect screens are installed and in good condition on houses and caravans;
  • use mosquito nets and mosquito-proof tents when camping
  • ensure infants and children are adequately protected against mosquito bites, preferably with suitable clothing, bed nets or other forms of insect screening.

It is also a timely reminder for residents to minimise mosquito breeding around the home by taking some simple steps to remove or modify breeding sites. Residents should:

  • dispose of all containers which hold water
  • stock ornamental ponds with fish and keep vegetation away from the water's edge
  • keep swimming pools well chlorinated, filtered and free of dead leaves
  • fill or drain depressions in the ground that hold water
  • fit mosquito proof covers to vent pipes on septic tank systems. Seal all gaps around the lid and ensure leach drains are completely covered
  • screen rainwater tanks with insect proof mesh, including inlet, overflow and inspection ports
  • ensure guttering does not hold water
  • empty pot plant drip trays once a week or fill them with sand
  •  empty and clean animal and pet drinking water bowls once a week.

For more information about mosquito prevention visit the Public Health website (external site).

Media contact: (08) 9222 4333

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