NT warned to cover up following tourist death from Murray Valley encephalitis


Territorians have again been warned to cover up against mosquitoes following the death of a 19-year-old tourist from Murray Valley encephalitis.

The Canadian woman became unwell after arriving home from a holiday in the NT and was admitted to hospital in Calgary, Alberta where she passed away yesterday.

"While in the Northern Territory during the first two weeks of May she travelled in the Top End and overland to the Centre so it is not known exactly where she acquired the disease," acting Director of the Centre for Disease Control, Peter Markey said. "However, it would appear it was acquired in the NT."

There have been 3 confirmed cases of MVE acquired in the NT this year and one case of Kunjin which is a related virus. There is also a 2-year old child with suspected MVE in Royal Darwin Hospital who acquired the disease in the Kimberley. 

Sentinel chickens tested across the NT have also shown recent signs of both diseases.

Higher than average rainfall during the past wet season, in particular rainfall in Central Australia and the Barkly, has meant the risk of Murray Valley encephalitis and Kunjin extends across all of the Northern Territory until at least July.

All Territorians are again being urged to take precautions against MVE, Kunjin and other mosquito-borne diseases.

MVE is the most dangerous endemic mosquito borne disease in the NT. Usual symptoms of MVE include:

  • Severe headache
  • High fever
  • Drowsiness
  • Tremor and seizures, especially in young children

In some cases the condition progresses to delirium and coma, leading to paralysis or brain damage. Despite best care, 25 per cent of people die from the infection and at least 25 per cent will have residual neurological effects.

Kunjin virus causes a disease with high fever, headache, muscle pain, lethargy and sometimes rash, but more serious complications such as encephalitis are relatively rare.

"The main risk period for MVE and Kunjin disease is February to July, and the carrier of both is the common banded mosquito, Culex annulirostris.", Acting Director of Medical Entomology, Allan Warchot said today.

"MVE is endemic in the northern two thirds of the Territory, and extends into southern NT during wetter than average summer rainfall."

"Increased numbers of the common banded mosquito can be experienced in the NT at this time of year within five kilometres of freshwater creeks, flood plains and swamps, and seasonally flooded inland areas.

"People most at risk include campers, babies and young children who reside near problem areas. People in small or remote communities and anyone visiting parks and recreation areas where mosquitoes may be active are also at greater risk of contracting a mosquito-borne disease."

To avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes, people are advised to:

  • Avoid problem areas or outside exposure after sundown
  • Wear protective, light-coloured clothing with long sleeves, long trousers and socks between dusk and dawn
  • Use mosquito-proof tents when camping
  • Use protective repellent containing diethyl-toluamide (DEET) or picaridin or use other mosquito protection devices when outside in mosquito-prone areas.


Media inquiries: Michelle Foster 0459 166 801

Release date: 25 May 2011