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22 September 2014

Mosquito-borne disease risk continues in northern WA

Residents and holiday-makers in northern Western Australia are being reminded to protect themselves from mosquito bites following continued evidence of mosquito-borne virus activity.

Mosquito-borne Kunjin virus infection has been detected in sentinel chicken flocks during August and September as part of a surveillance program undertaken by The University of Western Australia on behalf of the Department of Health.

While no human cases of Kunjin virus infection have been reported so far this year, Kunjin virus has been detected in several chicken flocks located in the Kimberley, Pilbara and Midwest regions of WA.

Managing Scientist of Environmental Health Hazards, Dr Michael Lindsay, said it was unusual to detect Kunjin virus, or the related Murray Valley encephalitis virus, this late in the year and so far into the dry season.

Kunjin virus generally causes fairly mild symptoms such as fever, aching, swollen joints and rash. However, in rare cases Kunjin virus disease can be serious, leading to encephalitis or inflammation of the brain.

"People experiencing symptoms such as drowsiness, severe headache, neck stiffness, nausea and dizziness should seek medical advice quickly," Dr Lindsay 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 appetite, or general distress.† People experiencing these symptoms should seek medical advice quickly," Dr Lindsay said.

The virus is spread by the bite of the common banded mosquito that breeds in fresh water wetlands, creeks, irrigation areas and wastewater systems.

"Mosquito populations across much of northern WA are likely to be quite small at this time of the year, but our early warning system is clearly showing that some of them are carrying Kunjin virus. Itís important that people continue to avoid being bitten if they notice mosquitoes about," Dr Lindsay said.

People do not need to alter their plans to visit northern WA but should try to minimise exposure to mosquitoes 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 prevention visit: www.public.health.wa.gov.au.

ENDS

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(08) 9222 4333

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