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20 October 2014

Ross River virus disease risk in south-west

The Department of Health is reminding residents and travellers in the south-west of Western Australia to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites over the coming months.

The warning follows the first detection of Ross River virus (RRV) in mosquitoes in the south-west for the 2014/15 mosquito season. The mosquito and virus surveillance program is undertaken by The University of Western Australia on behalf of the Department.

Department of Health Acting Medical Entomologist, Dr Andrew Jardine said although the virus was detected in mosquitoes from the Peel region, it was likely to be more widespread.

"It is likely that at this time of year Ross River Virus would be active across most of the south-west," Dr Jardine said.

"Mosquito management is being undertaken by local government authorities in collaboration with the Department of Health in areas with a recognised risk of RRV and Barmah Forest virus (BFV) infection.

"However, it is not realistic to rely on mosquito management programs alone to control mosquitoes—people also need to take their own precautions to avoid mosquito bites," he said.

Symptoms of RRV 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 the viruses is by having a specific blood test.

There is no cure for RRV so it's important that people take care to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes.

People living or travelling in the southwest do not need to change their travel plans but should take extra precautions, such as:

  • avoiding outdoor exposure particularly around dawn and dusk (and the first few hours after dark);
  • wearing protective (long, loose-fitting, light coloured) clothing when outdoors;
  • applying a personal repellent containing 20% 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 may not be as effective as DEET or picaridin, or may need to be reapplied more frequently;
  • ensuring insect screens are installed and in good condition. The use of bed nets will offer further protection;
  • using mosquito nets or mosquito-proof tents when camping or sleeping outdoors; and
  • ensuring infants and children are adequately protected against mosquito bites, preferably with suitable clothing, bed nets or other forms of insect screening.

With summer approaching, 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; and
  • Empty and clean animal and pet drinking water bowls once a week.

Media contact: (08) 9222 4333

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