Australia fights the spread of Japanese encephalitis

Australia said Friday it is purchasing extra vaccines to fight the life-threatening Japanese mosquito-borne encephalitis virus, which has spread for the first time along the flood-affected east coast.

Previously confined to the tropical north, Japanese encephalitis has traveled to southern Australia since late February, infecting 17 people and causing two confirmed deaths, according to state health authorities.

More extreme rain events have brought more mosquitoes to eastern Australia, one scientist said, as the country battles higher temperatures attributed to climate change, meaning the atmosphere contains more moisture.

There is no specific treatment for the disease, which is spread only through mosquito bites.

Less than one percent of infected people can develop a serious disease such as encephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain tissues, Australia’s federal health ministry said.

Symptoms include neck stiffness, severe headache and coma, and “more rarely, permanent neurological complications or death,” he warned.

Australia’s ministries of health and agriculture said the government will invest AU $ 69 million ($ 51 million) in control measures, including purchasing an additional 130,000 vaccine doses, strengthening the 15,000 currently available, and a better surveillance.

The vaccines – Imojev manufactured by Sanofi-Aventis Australia and JEspect manufactured by Seqirus – must be targeted at people who work near mosquitoes and pigs, who are vulnerable to infection.

Australian states that confirmed Japanese encephalitis infections included New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, which had never reported locally acquired infections.

Queensland, also affected by the spread, had previously reported only one case.

Japanese encephalitis is a common cause of viral brain infections in Asia, said Dominic Dwyer, New South Wales director of public health pathology.

“It didn’t come by boat or plane like Covid-19, but probably by migratory birds that visited inland waterways and then by mosquitoes, whose numbers have increased in eastern Australia with wetter conditions, heavy rain and floods, “he wrote in a report published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Australia’s east coast is emerging from a two-week rain and flood disaster that killed more than 20 people as it engulfed a string of cities and swept cars off the streets.

Scientists say climate change is making floods, forest fires, cyclones and droughts in Australia more frequent and more intense.

Pigs can amplify the presence of the Japanese encephalitis virus if infected animals are bitten by mosquitoes again, scientists say.

Dwyer said it is not known whether wild pigs – of which there are millions across the country – played a role in its spread.

Australia’s agriculture minister, David Littleproud, said mosquitoes were trapped in all infected styes.

“A national surveillance plan is being developed to identify and locate infected mosquitoes, birds, pigs, including wild pigs, horses and humans,” he said.

He pointed out that commercially produced pork was safe to consume.

“There are no food safety issues,” Littleproud said.

State governments have advised people to try to avoid mosquito bites, including by covering exposed skin, using repellants, removing water containers where they could breed, staying indoors at dawn and dusk, and staying away from insects. in wetlands and bushes.

© 2022 AFP