Easter holiday mosquito warning

The Department of Health has issued a public health alert to cover up and use repellent

to avoid mosquito bites over the Easter break and over coming weeks.

The move comes as the risk of serious mosquito-borne disease across the State has increased significantly.

Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE), Kunjin and Japanese encephalitis (JE) viruses have been detected across a wide area of WA, and people should take appropriate precautions.

The alert follows a recent case of MVE in the Kimberley that resulted in death, and several warnings over the past few weeks of mosquito-borne flaviviruses including MVE and JE viruses in the Pilbara and Kimberley regions.

A significant increase in the activity of the MVE, JE and Kunjin family of viruses has been detected across much of the State through the Department's sentinel chicken surveillance program, including recent detections in the Midwest and Wheatbelt regions

MVE, Kunjin, Ross River virus (RRV) and Barmah Forest virus (BFV) were also detected in mosquito samples recently collected in the east Kimberley region and there has also been a significant increase in cases of RRV and BRV have also increased in Kimberley in recent weeks.

Department of Health, Managing Scientist Dr Andrew Jardine, said these viruses were transmitted to people through the bite of an infected mosquito and could cause serious disease in some cases.

"We are currently in a very high-risk period for transmission of potentially dangerous mosquito-borne viruses across WA" Dr Jardine said.

"Many holiday-makers will be travelling over Easter and the school holidays and it is very important to pack an effective repellent and long, loose-fitting clothing for everyone in the family."

"Residents are also urged to protect themselves, particularly when spending long periods of time outdoors, such as camping or fishing.

"While the risk of being infected and becoming unwell is low, the resulting illness can include serious neurological symptoms. In the case of MVE or JE, this may result in permanent brain damage or even be fatal."

Initial symptoms of MVE and JE include fever, drowsiness, headache, stiff neck, nausea and dizziness.

People experiencing these symptoms should seek medical advice as soon as possible.

In young children, fever might be the only early sign of infection.

Parents should see their doctor or local health service if concerned, particularly if their child experiences drowsiness, floppiness, irritability, poor feeding, or general distress.

Dr Jardine said symptoms of Kunjin virus disease were usually milder than MVE, but in some cases, infection may result in headache, neck stiffness, fever and coma.

Symptoms of RRV disease can last for weeks to months, and include painful or swollen joints, sore muscles, skin rash, fever, fatigue and headaches. The only way to diagnose the disease is by visiting your doctor and having a specific blood test.

"Local government authorities in collaboration with the Department of Health are undertaking mosquito management where feasible in recognised high-risk areas" Dr Jardine said.

"However, it is not realistic to rely on mosquito management programs alone to control all mosquitoes.

"Individuals must take their own precautions to avoid mosquito bites."

Dr Jardine said that there was no need to change travel plans, however it was an important and timely reminder not to be complacent.

Protect yourself and your family:

  • avoid outdoor exposure, particularly at dawn and in the early evening
  • wear protective (long, loose-fitting, light-coloured) clothing when outdoors
  • apply an effective personal repellent containing diethyltoluamide (DEET), picaridin or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (also known as PMD) evenly to all areas of exposed skin and always follow the label instructions
  • ensure insect screens are installed and in good condition on houses and caravans
  • use mosquito nets and mosquito-proof tents if sleeping outside
  • use mosquito coils and mosquito lanterns and apply barrier sprays containing bifenthrin in patio and outdoor areas around houses
  • ensure babies and children are protected against mosquito bites, with suitable clothing, shoes/socks, bed nets or other forms of insect screening
  • keep grass/weeds and other vegetation short to reduce shelter for adult mosquitoes
  • remove water-holding containers from around the home and garden to ensure mosquitoes do not breed in the backyard.
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