14 April 2015

Renewed warning for the Kimberley to protect against mosquito bites

The Department of Health has reiterated its warning to residents and travellers to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites during the school holiday period following further detections of the mosquito-borne Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE) and Kunjin (KUN) viruses throughout the Kimberley.

These viruses have been detected in a number of sentinel chicken flocks across the Kimberley which are used as an early warning system for virus activity by the Department of Health and the University of Western Australia.

Department of Health Medical Entomologist, Dr Peter Neville, said MVE and KUN viruses are only transmitted to humans through a bite from an infected mosquito.

“While the risk of being infected and becoming unwell is low, the illness caused by these viruses 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.”

Dr Neville said Kunjin virus usually caused a milder illness than MVE, but in rare cases also causes severe symptoms, including headache, neck stiffness, fever, delirium and coma.

No human cases of MVE or KUN disease have been reported so far this year, but the viruses have now been detected in four sentinel chicken flocks in the Kimberley.

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, such as:

  • 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 WA Health Mosquitoes webpage (external site).

Media contact: 9222 4333

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