14 September 2022

NSW is further expanding free access to Japanese encephalitis (JE) vaccine to residents living in affected regional areas to protect those most at risk.

A new seroprevalence survey undertaken by NSW Health found that one in 11 people who took part showed evidence of previous infection.

In addition to the current group of people who work with pigs or mosquitoes or in specialised laboratories, Communicable Diseases Network Australia’s (CDNA) national priority groups, and some international travellers, JE vaccine is now also recommended for people who:

  • live or work in any of the following Local Government Areas (LGAs): Albury, Balranald, Berrigan, Carrathool, Dubbo Regional, Edward River, Federation, Goulburn Mulwaree, Greater Hume, Griffith, Lockhart, Murray River, Temora, or Wentworth and
  • are aged 50 years or older and
  • spend significant time outdoors (four hours per day).

JE vaccine is available through local General Practitioners (GPs). People who meet the above criteria should make an appointment with their GP and let them know it is for the JE vaccine. GPs may require a few days’ notice so they can order the vaccine.

NSW Health Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant extended her thanks to the more than one thousand (1,048) participants from communities across Griffith, Temora, Corowa, Balranald and Dubbo who provided blood samples in the survey. These areas were selected on the basis of JE virus activity.

One in 11, or 80 in 917 people, showed antibodies, indicating past infection with JE virus that would not have been acquired in another country.

As the purpose of the survey was understanding the risk of being infected with the JE virus in NSW, the remaining 131 participants were excluded as they had received a JE vaccine before, travelled for more than one month in, or were born in, a country where JE is commonly found.

To date, 13 people in NSW have been clinically diagnosed with JE in NSW this year and two of those people sadly died. All were estimated to have acquired the virus between mid-January and the end of February 2022.

“The results of this serosurvey provide us with valuable insight into the prevalence of past JE infections in these communities after it was first detected earlier this year,” Dr Chant said.

“Vaccination is an important part of the public health response but, currently, global supply of JE vaccine is very limited. So we’re urging people to protect themselves by avoiding mosquito bites altogether, particularly as we head into warmer months.”

JE is a serious disease caused by the JE virus, however only around one per cent of people infected with the JE virus will experience symptoms.

JE is spread to humans by infected mosquitoes. People are not able to pass the virus to other people. Humans also cannot get infected with the virus by touching an infected animal or eating animal products, including pork products.

Australian mosquitoes can carry a range of viruses for which there are no vaccines, so it is vital to avoid mosquito bites.

Protect yourself and your family by:

  • covering openings such as windows and doors with insect screens and checking there are no have gaps in them
  • removing items that might collect water (such as old tyres, empty pots) outside your house where mosquitoes can breed
  • improving drainage on your property so that water does not become stagnant
  • wearing light, loose-fitting long-sleeved shirts, long pants and covered footwear and socks, especially around dusk and dawn
  • applying repellent to all areas of exposed skin, using repellents that contain DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus
  • re-applying repellent regularly, particularly after swimming, being sure to always apply sunscreen first and then apply repellent
  • using insecticide sprays, vapour dispensing units and mosquito coils to repel mosquitos (mosquito coils should only be used outside).

In line with national reporting structures, NSW Health reports any new cases and case locations on the NSW Health website. According to the CDNA criteria, asymptomatic people found to have JE antibodies through serosurvey studies do not meet the case definition for JE disease, unlike those who were clinically diagnosed.

For further information on JE virus and ways to protect yourself visit Japanese encephalitis vaccination.