Residents and visitors along the Murray River in northern Victoria are being warned to protect themselves from mosquito bites following detection of Murray Valley Encephalitis virus in the Riverina region of NSW.
Victoria's Deputy Chief Health Officer, Dr Michael Ackland said MVE virus had been detected in the sentinel chicken flocks at Deniliquin near the Victorian border.
A similar mosquito-borne disease, Kunjin virus, has also been detected in a flock in Leeton.
The sentinel chicken surveillance program - during which chickens are regularly tested for the presence of a range of mosquito-borne infections - serves as an early warning system for potential human cases.
Dr Ackland said no viruses had been detected in the nine Victorian flocks this summer, but testing continues.
“Recent heavy rain in the area and relatively warm weather has created conditions ideal for mosquito breeding and we have seen a significant increase in mosquito numbers as a result,” he said.
“With the school holiday period being a time of increased outdoor activity and travel to these areas, taking measures to avoid bites is a critical step to protecting against mosquito-borne diseases.”
Usual symptoms of Murray Valley encephalitis virus disease include severe headache, high fever, drowsiness, neck stiffness, tremor and seizures. Symptoms for Kunjin virus are similar but typically more mild. People experiencing symptoms should seek immediate medical attention from their GP or their local hospital. Onset of symptoms may be from 7 to 28 days following a mosquito bite.
The last confirmed human case of MVE in Victoria was reported in 1974, when a large outbreak occurred throughout much of south eastern Australia.
Dr Ackland says the environmental conditions over the next few weeks may continue to provide ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes.
Simple precautions can help protect against mosquitoes, he said.
“Mosquitoes are at their most active at dawn and dusk, although some species can be present and bite throughout the day,” Dr Ackland said.
Householders should ensure that insect screens fitted to doors and windows are in good condition.
“Visitors and residents are encouraged to wear long, light colored loose-fitting clothing and use a suitable insect repellent containing picaridin or DEET as an active ingredient on exposed skin areas,” Dr Ackland said.
“Mosquito numbers can be reduced by getting rid of stagnant water around the home or campsites. Mosquitoes will breed in any receptacle that can hold water, including old tyres, unused fish ponds, unsealed water tanks and pot plant holders
“As mosquitoes can hatch quickly, water containers around the home should be emptied at least once a week.”
Reviewed 11 April 2014