20 March 2015

Murray Valley encephalitis virus detection prompts warning for the Kimberley

The Department of Health is warning residents and travellers in the Kimberley region of Western Australia to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites following the detection of the mosquito-borne Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE) virus in the northwest for the first time in 2015.

No human cases of MVE virus infection have been reported this year but the virus has been detected through the surveillance program carried out by the Department of Health and the University of Western Australia.

The virus was detected in a sentinel chicken flock in the Kimberley, used as an early warning system for virus activity.

Department of Health Medical Entomologist, Dr Peter Neville, said MVE virus was 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,” Dr Neville said.

“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, 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 Kimberley region 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.

For more information about mosquito prevention visit the Public Health website (external site).

Media contact: 9222 4333

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