Deadly mosquito-borne virus warning in southern parts of Australia

CANBERRA, Feb 28: A health warning has been issued in South Australia (SA) over a potentially deadly mosquito-borne virus.

The state’s Department for Health and Wellbeing recently told the community to avoid exposure to mosquitoes after seven cases of acute encephalitis were identified in SA over the last month.

Acute encephalitis is inflammation of the brain that is most commonly caused by viral or bacterial infection.

All seven cases in SA have required treatment in hospital.

Chris Lease, executive director of Health Protection and Licensing Services in the department, said authorities were investigating the confirmed cases for flavivirus, a mosquito-borne disease that can develop into encephalitis.

“All of these people required hospitalisation with four people currently still in hospital, and one person having sadly passed away,” he said in a media release on Sunday, adding that the south east of Australia currently experiencing a La Nina weather pattern increases the risk of mosquito-borne diseases.

“Symptoms of encephalitis may include confusion, headaches, neck stiffness, tremors, drowsiness and seizures.”

In addition to the seven cases of acute encephalitis, there have also been 77 confirmed cases of the Ross River virus in SA, in 2022 so far, up from 48 at the same time in 2021.

Ross River is not lethal but can cause joint pain, fever and rashes.

The West Nile virus has been detected in New South Wales and mosquitoes carrying the Kokobera virus – a type of flavivirus – have been found in SA’s Riverland region.

“Most people who are infected with these viruses are asymptomatic or develop a mild febrile illness, but a small proportion of infected people, less than 1 per cent will develop encephalitis, which may be fatal or cause long-term neurological damage,” Lease said.

“To protect against mosquito-borne diseases, we are encouraging people to ‘fight the bite’ and take precautions such as wearing long, loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing and using a repellent which contains DEET or picaridin.” (IANS)