In an update on the Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) situation affecting several states in Australia, the Department of Health now reports 35 human cases. The breakdown is as follows:
23 have been confirmed with definitive laboratory evidence: New South Wales (10), Queensland (2), South Australia (3) and Victoria (8).
12 are probable cases where the person has been linked epidemiologically and/or has symptoms of the disease and has laboratory suggestive evidence: Queensland (2), South Australia (5), Victoria (3) and NSW (2).
The death toll remains at three–one each in New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria.
A Communicable Disease Incident of National Significance was declared by health officials on March 4.
The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment has also reported additional infected piggeries. There are currently more than 60 infected piggeries across the four states.
Japanese encephalitis is a viral zoonotic disease that is spread by mosquitoes. The virus can cause reproductive losses and encephalitis in pigs and horses. In rare cases, Japanese encephalitis can cause disease in people. People and horses are considered ‘dead end’ hosts. Once infected, they do not play a role in transmitting the virus. Pigs and some species of wild birds are amplifying hosts.
Most Japanese encephalitis virus infections in people are asymptomatic, however, those with severe infection (which occurs in less than one per cent of cases) may experience neck stiffness, coma, and more rarely, permanent neurological complications or death.
Encephalitis is the most serious clinical consequence of infection. Illness usually begins with symptoms such as sudden onset of fever, headache and vomiting. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek urgent medical attention.
People should try to prevent mosquito bites by using mosquito repellent containing picaridin, DEET or oil of lemon eucalyptus on all exposed skin and reapply every few hours.
Wear long, light colored and loose-fitting clothing as well as covered footwear when outside. Ensure accommodation, including tents, are properly fitted with mosquito nettings or screens.
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