18 November 2022

Local communities along the Murray River are encouraged to take measures to protect themselves against mosquito bites as routine animal surveillance indicates Japanese encephalitis (JE) virus has survived winter in the region.

NSW Health Executive Director, Dr Jeremy McAnulty said the detection of JE in pigs in the region was made as part of planned ongoing surveillance for the mosquito borne virus.

Dr McAnulty said it was a timely reminder to the community to take action to prevent mosquito bites including applying repellent regularly to all areas of exposed skin, wearing loose, long-sleeved, light-coloured clothing and covered footwear when outside, and mosquito proofing homes.

“Despite the winter season where mosquito populations usually diminish, it appears the Japanese encephalitis virus has continued to circulate along the Murray River, presumably between mosquitoes and waterbirds,” Dr McAnulty said.

Dr McAnulty reminded the community that a broader group of people are now eligible for free vaccination against the virus, and he strongly encourages those people get vaccinated.

“Now is the right time to vaccinate if you spend a considerable amount of time outdoors, because it takes between two to four weeks following vaccination to develop a protective immune response to the virus.

“I would also continue to urge the community to stay vigilant and take precautions against mosquito bites altogether because, aside from Japanese encephalitis, mosquitoes carry a range of viruses for which there are no vaccines.”

JE vaccine is recommended for people aged two months or older who live or routinely work in 41 Local Government Areas with identified JE risk in the south and west of NSW who meet the eligibility criteria.

Dr McAnulty advised community members to call ahead and make an appointment with a GP or pharmacist and let them know it is for the JE vaccine as a few days’ notice may be required to order in the vaccine. Pharmacists who have completed appropriate training are able to provide JE vaccine in NSW.

Supply of JE vaccine continues to be severely constrained in Australia. People who are eligible for vaccination are urged to come forward for vaccination with stock currently available in NSW, and additional vaccines are expected to arrive in the first part of 2023.

The latest data from the NSW Arbovirus Surveillance & Mosquito Monitoring Program shows very high number of mosquitoes in the Murray River region, however the species of mosquito most capable of spreading JE were detected in low levels within the region.

There have been no detected cases of JE in NSW residents so far this mosquito season.

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).

For further information on JE virus and ways to protect yourself visit the mosquito borne diseases webpage.