08 April 2016

Mosquito borne virus warning for Kimberley now extended to Pilbara region

The Department of Health is warning residents and travellers in the Pilbara region of Western Australia to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites following the detection of the mosquito-borne Kunjin virus.

The virus 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, so residents and travellers to the Kimberley region are also reminded to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites.

No human cases of MVE or Kunjin virus infection have been reported this year but the viruses have been detected through the Department of Health’s surveillance program.

The Department of Health’s Medical Entomologist, Dr Peter Neville, said Kunjin and MVE viruses belong to the same group of viruses and can 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. The only effective protection is to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites,” Dr Neville said.

“For most people, Kunjin virus disease has fairly mild symptoms such as fever, aching, swollen joints and rash. However, in rare cases infection with Kunjin virus can lead to inflammation of the brain.

“Initial symptoms for MVE can include drowsiness, headache, neck stiffness, 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, so 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 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:

  • 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.

Further information Murray Valley encephalitis and Kunjin viruses (Healthy WA)

ENDS

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