Murray Valley encephalitis warning extends to Central Australia

Residents in Central Australia as well as the rest of the Territory are being urged to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes, as Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE) and Kunjin virus activity has presumptively been detected in the Centre.

Director of Medical Entomology, Nina Kurucz explained that preliminary results from the flavivirus surveillance program carried out by the Department of Health in liaison with the Department of Primary Industry and Resources have indicated recent MVE and Kunjin virus activity in Tennant Creek and Alice Springs.

While previous flavivirus surveillance results showed high level virus activity across the Top End, it is now likely that both viruses are also present in Central Australia. Although the risk of contracting Murray Valley encephalitis virus disease or Kunjin is relatively low, due to low mosquito numbers across Central Australia, people are urged to take precautions against mosquito bites, as it might only take a few mosquitoes to transmit mosquito-borne disease during periods of high level virus activity.

The viruses are transmitted by the common banded mosquito, Culex annulirostris, which is active after sunset within a few kilometres of seasonal lagoons and wetlands.

Ms Kurucz said “To avoid mosquito borne disease, use personal mosquito protection and avoid being outdoors in or close to wetland areas or places where mosquitoes are active, especially after sunset.”

Murray Valley encephalitis is rare, but can potentially be fatal. The last MVE case occurred in the West Arnhem region in April 2018, and the last case in Central Australia was in 2015.

The symptoms can include severe headache, high fever, drowsiness, tremor and seizures (especially in young children). In some cases the disease can progress to delirium, coma, permanent brain damage or death.

To minimize the chance of being bitten by mosquitoes, people should:

  • use a protective repellent containing 20 per cent DEET or Picaridin as a supplement to protective clothing when outdoors in mosquito prone areas
  • wear light-coloured clothing with long sleeves, long trousers and socks, between dusk and dawn in areas where mosquito bites are likely
  • avoid outdoor exposure around dusk and at night near areas of dense vegetation and other areas of high mosquito activity
  • use mosquito-proof accommodation and camping facilities at night
  • use mosquito coils, mosquito lanterns and barrier sprays containing bifenthrin in patio and outdoor areas near houses
  • ensure children are adequately protected against mosquitoes.

Media Contact: Tess Nekrasov 0427 596 954

Last updated: 04 May 2018