15 May 2015

Kunjin virus warning for Pilbara region

Residents and travellers in the Pilbara are being encouraged to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites, following the detection of the mosquito-borne Kunjin virus.

The virus – the first detection in the area this year – was detected in a sentinel chicken flock in the Pilbara, used as an early warning system for virus activity.

Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE) virus and Kunjin virus activity also continues to be detected in sentinel chicken flocks in the Kimberley region.

No human cases of MVE or Kunjin virus infection have been reported this year.

WA Health’s Medical Entomologist Dr Peter Neville, said Kunjin and MVE viruses belonged to the same group of viruses and could only be transmitted by mosquitoes.

“While the risk of being infected and becoming unwell is low, the illness caused by these viruses can be serious,” Dr Neville said.

“The only effective protection is to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites.”

Dr Neville said Kunjin virus generally caused 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.

Initial symptoms of MVE 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 of MVE, so parents should see their doctor if concerned, particularly if their child experiences drowsiness, floppiness, irritability, poor feeding, or general distress,” Dr Neville said.

People do not need to alter their plans to visit the Pilbara or Kimberley regions but it is important to avoid mosquito bites by taking a few simple steps when camping, fishing or undertaking other outdoor activities.”

Tips to avoid mosquito bites include:

  • avoid outdoor exposure around dawn and early evening
  • wear protective (long, loose-fitting, light-coloured) clothing when outdoors
  • apply 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 so they need to be reapplied more frequently
  • use mosquito coils and mosquito lanterns and apply barrier sprays containing bifenthrin in patio and outdoor areas around houses
  • 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 the Public Health website (external site).

Media contact: (08) 9222 4333

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