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Encephalitis warning goes out for visitors to Kimberley

February 28, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Health authorities are urging tourists and visitors to Western Australia’s spectacular Kimberley region to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites, after the detection of the potentially fatal mosquito-borne Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE) virus in the East Kimberley.

Managing scientist of biological hazards with the Western Australian Department of Health, Dr Michael Lindsay, said it was the first detection of the virus this wet season.

“Murray Valley encephalitis virus is carried only by mosquitoes, and while the risk of being infected and becoming unwell is low, the illness caused by the virus could be severe or even fatal,” he said.

“The only effective protection is to avoid mosquito bites.”

No human cases of MVE virus infection have been reported so far this wet season but the virus has been detected in a sentinel chicken flock in Kununurra. The chickens are part of an early warning system for activity of MVE virus undertaken by the WA Department of Health, PathWest and local governments.

“This detection indicates that environmental conditions now support transmission of MVE virus by Kimberley mosquitoes, so residents and visitors in the region should take precautions to avoid being bitten,” Dr Lindsay 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.”

The disease is spread by Culex annulirostris, commonly known as the common banded mosquito, an insect native to Australia, Fiji, Micronesia, the Philippines and Indonesia.



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 outdoors.

Dr Lindsay said to minimise being bitten people should:

  • Avoid outdoor exposure around dawn and early evening when the mosquitoes that transmit MVE virus are most active.
  • 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.

Spectacular Kimberley scenery

Named after the Murray Valley in southeastern Australia (where the virus was first isolated from patients who died from encephalitis during an outbreak in 1951) Murray Valley encephalitis virus is a member of the Flavivirus family and is closely related to Japanese encephalitis virus, a leading cause of encephalitis in Asia.

Edited by Peter Needham

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