Date Published: 27 February 2009

Mosquito-borne disease risk in the north of WA

Health News from Australia.

The Department of Health today urged people living and holidaying in the north of Western Australia to take extra care against mosquito bites, following widespread rainfall and flooding in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions and the detection of the mosquito-borne Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE) virus for the first time this wet season.

Department of Health Acting Medical Entomologist Sue Harrington said the Department’s surveillance program (undertaken by The University of Western Australia) had detected activity of MVE virus in the north-east Kimberley, with further detections expected in other parts of the northwest.

MVE is a fairly rare disease but can be fatal or cause severe symptoms, so it is important that people take precautions to avoid mosquito bites,” she said.

Last year MVE infection led to the tragic death of a Kimberley man and we want people to take the risk seriously.

“Initial symptoms of MVE include fever, drowsiness, headache, stiff neck, nausea and dizziness and people experiencing these symptoms should seek medical advice promptly.

In severe cases, people may experience fits, lapse into coma, 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.”

Ms Harrington said people most likely to be affected by MVE virus are newcomers to affected regions, such as babies, young children, tourists or new employees, but anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek medical advice quickly.

Wet season activity of another mosquito-borne virus now also appears to be well underway in the north, with 14 cases of Ross River virus disease reported from across the Kimberley since January,” she said.

There are no specific cures or vaccines for MVE or Ross River virus disease so it is very important that people take care to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes.

The warning particularly applies to people living, visiting or camping near rain affected areas and swamp and river systems during the evening and night throughout the Kimberley. However, the viruses may be active elsewhere in the north of the state, especially where mosquitoes are abundant.

Controlling mosquitoes in most rural regions of WA is generally not possible because of the large size and inaccessibility of natural mosquito breeding habitat,” Ms Harrington said.

People do not need to alter their plans to visit the Kimberley or Pilbara as a result of this warning. However, it is important to avoid mosquito bites by taking a few simple steps, such as:

* Avoid outdoor exposure from dusk and at night in all areas of high mosquito activity
* Wear protective (long, loose-fitting) clothing when outdoors; and
* Use a personal repellent containing diethyl toluamide (DEET) or picaridin. The most effective and long-lasting formulations are lotions or gels. Most natural or organic repellents are not as effective as DEET or picaridin
* Ensure insect screens are installed on buildings and completely mosquito-proof
* Use mosquito nets and mosquito-proof tents
* Ensure infants and children are adequately protected against mosquito bites, preferably with suitable clothing, bed nets or other forms of insect screening.



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