Mosquitoes carry risk of Murray Valley encephalitis warn Victorian health authorities

After detecting some new cases of Murray Valley encephalitis in chickens, health authorities have warned Victorians to protect themselves from mosquito bites. Victoria's chief health officer, Dr John Carnie warned that the deadly disease had been detected in "sentinel" chickens at Cobram, Rutherglen, Toolamba and Bendigo. “These latest detections follow positive results in chickens in similar areas a month ago, including Barmah and Kerang… Evidence of the virus is again present in these areas,” Dr Carnie said.

Authorities reveal that the disease, carried by birds and passed to humans by mosquitoes, kills one in five of those infected, while half of survivors suffer brain damage. Till date there have been no confirmed cases of the virus in humans but a northwest Victorian man died of a suspected case of Murray Valley encephalitis this month. Symptoms include severe headache, high fever, drowsiness, tremor and seizures, Dr Carnie said. “People experiencing such symptoms should seek urgent medical attention from their GP or their local hospital,” he added.

Authorities believe that the floods meant mosquitoes were even active during the day, so people in these areas should cover up by wearing long, loose fitting clothing, and use insect repellents containing picaridin or DEET. All houses should ensure that insect screens fitted to doors and windows are in good condition, and stagnant water in the likes of old tyres, unused fish ponds and pot plant holders should be emptied weekly, Dr. Carnie said.

Chickens have been placed across the region to act as an early warning system for possible human infection. This is only the second time the virus has been detected in these chickens since the 1970s. There has been a big increase in the number of people being treated for mosquito-borne diseases in Victoria, with a little more than a 1,000 cases of the Ross River and Barmah Forest viruses confirmed so far this year.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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