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State-wide mosquito-borne disease warning.

The Department of Health has today issued warnings to residents and visitors to the South West and rain-affected areas of the State to avoid mosquito bites in the coming weeks.

The Department's Medical Entomologist Dr Mike Lindsay said the warning was due to new and ongoing risks from mosquito borne viruses.

In the Peel region there have been over fifty new cases of Ross River virus disease reported since Christmas, with a few cases also occurring elsewhere in the South West.

In the Peel, Bunbury, Capel and Busselto n regions, activity of another mosquito -borne virus, Barmah Forest virus, has resulted in over thirty cases notified to the Department during the summer months.

In northern and inland regions, wet season rainfall and particularly flooding from cyclone Clare, are expected to lead to widespread mosquito breeding and an increased risk of transmission of mosquito-borne viruses, including Ross River virus.

Dr Lindsay strongly advised people in the South West and all rain-affected regions of the State to take precautions to minimise exposure to biting mosquitoes.

"The numbers of cases of Ross River virus and Barmah Forest virus disease being notified from the South West suggest that these outbreaks will continue for at least another few weeks," he said.

"In northern and inland areas affected by recent rains, the risk from mosquito-borne viruses will depend on environmental conditions affecting the survival of mosquitoes. However, people should assume that mosquitoes could be carrying disease and avoid bites."

Ross River and Barmah Forest viruses can cause painful or swollen joints, sore muscles, skin rashes, fever, chronic fatigue and headaches, with symptoms lasting for weeks or months. The only way to properly diagnose the virus is by having a blood test.

Dr Lindsay said there are some simple but important steps people can take to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes, such as:

" Avoiding outdoor exposure in areas of high mosquito activity, especially around dawn and dusk;
" Ensuring insect screens on houses are installed and completely mosquito -proof. If camping, use mosquito nets and mosquito-proof tents;
" Wearing long, loose-fitting protective clothing when outdoors in mosquito-prone areas.
" Using personal repellents containing diethyl toluamide (DEET) or picaridin. The most effective and long-lasting formulations are lotions or gels. Some natural or organic repellents may provide a measure of protection; and,
" Ensuring infants and children are adequately protected against mosquito bites, preferably with suitable clothing, bed nets or other forms of insect screening. Only infant-strength repellents should be used on children.