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16 June 2014

Mosquito-borne disease reminder in Kimberley and Pilbara

The Department of Health is reminding residents and travellers in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions of Western Australia to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites following evidence of Murray Valley encephalitis and Kunjin virus activity in the northwest for the first time this year.

Department of Health Medical Entomologist, Dr Peter Neville, said that both Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE) and Kunjin (KUN) viruses had been detected through a surveillance program carried out by the University of Western Australia on behalf of the Department.

"Murray Valley encephalitis and Kunjin viruses are only carried by mosquitoes, and while the risk of being infected and becoming unwell is low, the illnesses can be severe, and even fatal, so people should take precautions to avoid mosquito bites," Dr Neville said.

No human cases of MVE or KUN virus infection have been reported this year, but the viruses have now been detected in sentinel chicken flocks in the Kimberley and Pilbara. The chickens are used as an early warning system for activity of the two viruses.

"Initial symptoms of MVE include 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," he said.

"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 causes milder symptoms than MVE virus, but in rare cases may also cause severe symptoms, including headache, neck stiffness, fever, delirium and coma.

People do not need to alter their plans to visit the Pilbara or Kimberley regions but it is important to avoid mosquito bites by taking a few simple steps when camping, fishing or undertaking other outdoor activities by:

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

 For more information about mosquito-borne disease prevention visit:

Media contact: 9222 4333

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