04 May 2017

Mosquito warning for Grey Nomad travellers heading north

Department of Health is reminding travellers heading north, and residents of northern Western Australia, to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites.

The warning follows continued evidence of Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE) and Kunjin virus activity in sentinel chicken flocks across the Kimberley and Pilbara regions. Three suspected human cases of Kunjin virus disease have recently been detected across both regions, which if confirmed will be the first human cases of the disease in WA since 2006.

Both viruses are only carried by mosquitoes, and while the risk of being infected and becoming unwell is low, the symptoms associated with both MVE and Kunjin diseases can be seriously debilitating. In the case of MVE, the virus can be potentially fatal.

Initial symptoms of MVE include fever, drowsiness, headache, stiff neck, nausea and dizziness. People experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate medical advice. In severe cases, people may experience fits, lapse into a coma, and may be left with permanent brain damage or die.

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

WA Health Chief Health Officer Professor Tarun Weeramanthri said that people did not need to alter their plans to visit the Kimberley or Pilbara regions, but they must take simple steps to avoid mosquito bites when camping, fishing or undertaking any other activity outdoors.

“As there are no specific cures or vaccines for any of these viruses, it is important to prevent being bitten,” Professor Weeramanthri said.

“Travellers and residents should avoid outdoor exposure around dawn and early evening and wear protective long, loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing when outdoors.

“In addition, personal insect repellents containing diethyl toluamide (DEET) or Picaridin should be applied to all areas of exposed skin.”

“Grey Nomad” travellers are also reminded to ensure they take measures to protect their health, such as maintaining their medication regime and ensuring scripts were filled ahead of time.

Travellers should meet with their GPs for a thorough health check and to discuss any health issues that may impact on their travel plans. They should also ask for a current list of their medications to take with them on their holiday.

Professor Weeramanthri said by taking some simple steps before leaving home, people could help prevent any health-related interruptions to their holiday – while also ensuring they did not place increased pressure on remote, smaller health services.

“People can become complacent when they are relaxed and on holiday, which can sometimes lead to them forgetting their regular medicines and putting their health at risk,” he said.

“It is important to check medication for storage instructions, as the temperature inside a van or car in warm weather may rise beyond the recommended levels for safe storage.

“Emergency department presentations at health campuses in the north of the state increase significantly during the winter months as more people travel to the regions.

“This increase does have the potential to affect patient care, so it is important that emergency departments are left for emergencies only.”

Travellers are also reminded to take regular breaks while driving and to avoid driving tired.

Simple steps to avoid mosquito bites whilst holidaying in northern WA include:

  • avoid outdoor exposure around dawn and early evening
  • wear protective (long, loose-fitting, light-coloured) clothing when outdoors
  • apply a personal repellent 
  • ensure infants and children are adequately protected against mosquito bites, preferably with suitable clothing, bed nets or other forms of insect screening
  • when sitting outside, use mosquito coils and mosquito lanterns to deter mosquitoes 
  • ensure insect screens are installed and in good condition on houses and caravans and always use mosquito-proof tents when camping
  • if your accommodation or tent is not mosquito-proof, cover your sleeping area with a mosquito net
  • reduce mosquito breeding around your accommodation by removing, emptying or covering anything that holds water.

Tips for older travellers include:

  • remember to pack medications and repeat scripts 
  • ensure medications are stored properly, so their efficacy is maintained 
  • ensure scripts are filled ahead of time, to avoid running out of medication 
  • keep doctor, pharmacy, family and emergency numbers handy 
  • put in place a medication reminder system to ensure medications are taken on time (this could include setting an alarm) 
  • pack a first aid kit to use to mange small cuts and abrasions
  • seek advice regarding travel insurance and ambulance cover before leaving.


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