Community urged to vaccinate against mosquito-borne diseases

By Paula Doran

Broken Hill residents are being urged to combat against mosquitos as the spread of tropical diseases infiltrates southern regions and could even affect ours, with the potentially deadly Japanese Encephalitis (JE) virus of particular concern.

Testing has confirmed the once tropical disease had spread further south.

NSW Health says communities in the far west are not immune to the risk brought about by mozzies, urging people to either vaccinate or mitigate the risk of being bitten.

“Residents are being urged to go to their doctor prior to summer to discuss whether they are eligible for the vaccine against JE,” said Western NSW and Far West Local Health District Public Health Director, Priscilla Stanley.

“The impact that JE could have on the community is significant, and potentially deadly.”

NSW Health say those in river communities should act now to avoid illness in summer, with the current massive inflows of water into the region building ideal conditions for mosquitos to breed.

Experts will be watching closely as the weather warms up, with surveillance of mosquito numbers underway through the Arbovirus Surveillance and Mosquito monitoring program.

Recent surveying of NSW and Victorian border communities has shown that it had spread south, away from the traditional tropical climates it was associated with.

“The study found that one in 1 in 11 had evidence of infection,” Ms Stanley said.

“We know that some of those who contract the virus will not develop symptoms.  But for others, the symptoms are very severe.

“This is a disease we didn’t want and we didn’t expect,” Ms Stanley said.  “At end of the day we’ve got it and we’ve got do something about it.

“It’s particularly important to vaccinate now if you are eligible because it takes up to four weeks following vaccination to develop a protective immune response from the JE virus,” she said.

The vaccine is recommended for people over 50, and for those who spend large amounts of time outdoors.

Those arranging an appointment to see their GP should communicate that when booking to see their doctor so that they can ensure they have the vaccine on hand.

The Risks

Less than one per cent of people infected with JE virus develop neurologic illness but it is potentially  a deadly disease. In people who develop symptoms, the time from infection until illness onset (incubation period) is typically five to 15 days.

  • Initial symptoms often include fever, headache, and vomiting.
  • Mental status changes, neurologic symptoms, weakness, and movement disorders might develop over the next few days.
  • Seizures are common, especially among children.
  • Among patients who develop encephalitis (infection of the brain), 20% – 30% die.
  • Although some symptoms improve after the acute illness, 30%-50% of survivors continue to have neurologic, cognitive, or psychiatric symptoms.

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