08 February 2018

Warning to travellers and residents in the Kimberley of increased risk of mosquito-borne diseases

The Department of Health is warning residents and travellers in the Kimberley region of Western Australia (WA) to take additional precautions to avoid mosquito bites.

Increased rainfall and flooding across much of northern WA, and in particular the western Kimberley, has created ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes across extensive seasonal wetlands.

Environmental Health Hazards Managing Scientist, Dr Michael Lindsay, said that as mosquito numbers were expected to rise in coming weeks, there was potential for a substantial increase in the activity of mosquito-borne viruses including Ross River virus and Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE) viruses.

“Ross River virus can cause illness lasting for weeks or months, and include painful or swollen joints, sore muscles, skin rashes, fever, fatigue and headaches,” Dr Lindsay said.

“The only way to diagnose this and other mosquito-borne viruses is by visiting a doctor and having a specific blood test.”

The warning also follows the first evidence of MVE virus activity in the region for 2018.

“No human cases of infection with MVE or the related Kunjin virus have been reported this year, however evidence of MVE virus has now been detected in a sentinel chicken flock, which is used as an early warning system for virus activity,” he said.

MVE virus is only carried by mosquitoes. While the risk of being infected and becoming unwell is low, the illness caused by the virus can be severe and even fatal. The only effective protection is to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites.

Initial symptoms of MVE in adults and older children 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.

In young children, fever might be the only early sign. Parents should see their doctor if concerned, particularly if their child experiences drowsiness, floppiness, irritability, poor feeding, or general distress.

People do not need to alter their plans to visit the Kimberley region but it is important to avoid mosquito bites. ‘Fight the Bite’ when undertaking outdoor activities, including camping and fishing, by taking these simple steps:

  • avoid outdoor exposure around dawn and early evening
  • wear protective (long, loose-fitting, light-coloured) clothing when outdoors
  • apply an effective personal repellent containing diethyltoluamide (DEET) or picaridin to exposed skin or clothing and always follow the label instructions
  • use mosquito coils and mosquito lanterns and apply barrier sprays containing bifenthrin in patio and outdoor areas around the home
  • ensure insect screens are installed and in good condition on houses and caravans
  • use mosquito nets and mosquito-proof tents when camping
  • ensure 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 HealthyWA (external site).


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