Japanese encephalitis: What Australians need to know

Posted: 18 March 2022 1:30 pm
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The news of growing cases of Japanese encephalitis is understandably causing concern in Australia. Here are the main things you need to know about this rare disease.

Just when we thought we were getting to grips with the COVID pandemic, a new disease has popped up seemingly out of nowhere. 20 cases of Japanese encephlitis have now been recorded throughout Australia, with warnings that it's now here to stay. Sadly, 2 Australians have died as a result of Japanese encephalitis so far.

Here's what you need to know about the disease, including severity, prevention, treatments and more.

Japanese encephalitis severity

According to NSW Health, less than 1% of people infected with the Japenese encephalitis virus (JEV) will experience symptoms. Signs of a mild to moderate infection can include fever and headaches.

Symptoms of a severe infection include neck stiffness, disorientation, tremors, coma and seizures. The worst ramifications of an infection can include permanent neurological complications and death.

How is Japanese encephalitis spread?

JEV is being spread by the Culex species of mosquito. These mosquitoes are becoming exposed to the virus by biting infected animals. The recent cases have been mostly derived from piggeries.

JEV cannot be spread from humans to humans, nor by touching or eating infected animals. So there's no reason to put down the pork chop.

Japanese encephalitis prevention tips

The bottom line is this: At this point, JEV doesn't present a major threat to the average Australian, so there's no need to throw yourself back into lockdown. Following some simple preventative steps is all you need to do to ensure you can continue to lead your life safely.

No prizes for guessing the best way to protect yourself from JEV. Aussies are well-trained in warding off mosquito, but here's a quick rundown of the best steps to take. The mosquitos that transmit JEV are most active around the hours of dawn and dusk, so take extra care at these times.

Wear loose-fitting, light-coloured clothes that cover as much skin as possible. For any exposed skin, you'll need to crack out some old faithful insect repellant. For more information, check out Finder's official guides to the 9 best mosquito repellants in Australia and where to buy insect repellant online in Australia.

To ensure you're maximising the effectiveness of your repellant, ensure you reapply after swimming, and always put sunscreen on before repellant. Make sure your sleeping quarters are fitted with effective flyscreens, whether you're in your bedroom or a tent. If you're concerned about mosquitos breeding in your home, reduce water holding containers, as they only need a small amount of water to repopulate.

Consider getting your hands on some mosquito coils, as they are another helpful tool to keep mozzies away.

Japanese encephalitis treatment and vaccine

Bad news: There is no known treatment for JEV. Good news: There is a safe and effective vaccine.

Previously, the vaccine had been mostly recommended for those travelling to Asia or the Torres Strait. The government has recently expanded the vaccine's scope, but it's still limited to those considered to be high risk. This group includes:

  • workers at piggeries, pork abattoirs, or pork-processing plants
  • people who live at or need to visit one of those locations
  • workers who deal directly or indirectly with mosquitoes
  • laboratory workers who may be exposed to the virus.

At this point, people outside this group don't need to concern themselves with getting vaccinated, but if cases grow significantly outside these high-risk settings, that may change.

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