Outbreak of deadly mosquito virus in WA

By AAP with AG Staff 17 May 2011
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One person has died and others have fallen ill after an outbreak of mosquito viruses in WA.

ONE PERSON HAS DIED and several others are very ill across the northern and central regions of Western Australia after contracting a virus associated with mosquito bites.

The WA Department of Health says six people have been diagnosed with Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE), a serious inflammation of the brain, and is warning people travelling anywhere north or east of Perth to be vigilant.

The warning follows an advisory issued in April about MVE and the closely-related Kunjin virus in the Midwest, Wheatbelt and Goldfields regions.

Medical entomologist Sue Harrington says activity of the rare but potentially fatal MVE and Kunjin viruses has been detected in the Kimberley, Pilbara, Gascoyne, Goldfields, Midwest and central Wheatbelt regions, indicating virus activity was widespread.

“Murray Valley encephalitis virus and Kunjin virus are carried by mosquitoes, and while the risk of being infected and becoming unwell is low, the illnesses can be severe and people should take sensible precautions to avoid mosquito bites,” Sue says.

Initial symptoms of MVE included fever, drowsiness, headache, a stiff neck, nausea and dizziness, she says. In severe cases, people may experience fits, lapse into a coma, and may be left with permanent brain damage or die.

No cure for deadly encephalitis virus

In young children fever might be the only early sign, so parents should see their doctor if concerned, particularly if their child experiences drowsiness, irritability and poor feeding.

Kunjin virus usually causes milder illness than MVE but can cause headaches, neck stiffness, fever and delirium, Sue says. Ms Harrington said cases of Ross River and Barmah Forest virus diseases were also apparent.

The illnesses caused by Ross River and Barmah Forest viruses include painful joints, aching muscles, lethargy, fever, headache and skin rashes, Sue says.

“There are no specific cures or vaccines for any of these mosquito-borne diseases, so it is very important that people take care to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes,” she says.

Controlling mosquitoes in most rural regions of WA was not possible because of the large size and inaccessibility of natural mosquito breeding habitat, she says.

It is important for people to prevent mosquito bites by avoiding outdoor exposure at night, securing insect screens and wearing protective long-sleeve clothing outdoors.