A public health alert has been issued after a rare and serious mosquito-borne virus was detected in Australia.
Three people have already been already hospitalised with the virus across the east coast.
The patients in Queensland, NSW, and Victoria have been hospitalised with Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV).
Aussies are being warned to protect themselves against the disease and mosquito bites after an outbreak of JEV went undetected in several pig farms across the country for weeks.
The disease is spread through mosquito bites and is common in areas with high levels of mosquito activity.
While those with the infection are usually asymptomatic, infections can be quite severe, resulting in serious illness and death.
Australian Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Mark Schipp said that cases had been confirmed by laboratory diagnosis at a piggery in Victoria’s north, six in New South Wales, and one in Queensland.
These confirmed case indicate that the virus is likely already rampant in the local mosquito populations.
“JEV is a mosquito-borne viral disease that mostly occurs in pigs and horses, but can cause disease in people and rarely other animals,” Dr Schipp said.
“Animals and people become infected through the bite of infected mosquitoes."
The confirmed cases in humans mark the first time the virus has been detected on Australia’s southeastern coast.
The Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment and their relevant state and territory counterparts are now meeting regularly to 'work through the next steps of this situation'.
NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said that while JEV can be life-threatening, less than one per cent of people experience severe symptoms.
“Occasionally, JEV can cause sever neurological illness with headache, convulsions and reduced consciousness,” she said.
Australia’s acting chief medical officer Dr Sonya Bennett said that Aussies need to take preventative measures to avoid the mosquito-borne infection.
“Use mosquito repellent containing picaridin or DEET on all exposed skin,” she said.
“Wear long, loose-fitting clothing when outside and ensure accommodation, including tents, are properly fitted with mosquito netting or screens.”
Two vaccinations against JEV are available in Australia, and are approved for both adults and children.
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