Australian Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Mark Schipp, has warned pig ownersin Eastern Australia to be on alert for possible signs of Japaneseencephalitis virus (JEV).

The virus has been confirmed by laboratory diagnosis at one piggery inVictoria’s north, six piggeries in NSW, and one in Queensland. It’s the firsttime JEV has been detected in Eastern Australia.

A mosquito-borne viral disease that mostly occurs in pigs and horses, JEV canalso cause disease in people, and in rare cases other animals.

“Animals and people become infected through the bite of infected mosquitoes.It cannot be caught through eating pork or pig products. The disease is nottransmitted from person to person,” says Dr Schipp.

“This is the first time the virus has been detected in southern Australia, andbiosecurity authorities are working with their human health departments tounderstand the implications and risks of human exposure.

“The Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture, Water and theEnvironment are collaborating closely, together with state and territorycounterparts.

“We are meeting regularly and working together to work through the next stepsof this situation.

“We’re asking anyone who works with pigs or horses, even if they’re a pet inthe backyard, to keep an eye out for and report any possible signs of thisdisease.

“The most common symptoms in pigs are mummified or stillborn piglets, orpiglets who show neurological problems in the first six months of life. Thedisease tends to be asymptomatic in adult sows, but boars can experienceinfertility and testicle congestion.

“Horses can experience a range of symptoms. While most infected horses do notshow signs of disease, some more severe signs of JEV in horses include fever,jaundice, lethargy, anorexia, and neurological signs, which can vary inseverity.

“JEV is a nationally notifiable disease, which means if you suspect an animalis showing signs of the disease, you must report it. Measures should also betaken to protect animals from mosquitoes – for instance, applying a safeinsect repellent and putting a summer rug on horses.”

Acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr Sonya Bennett, said JEV infections can becontracted by humans through the bite of a mosquito. There are no confirmedhuman cases in Australia at this stage, although this is under activeinvestigation.

“Pigs are the focus from a human health perspective as they can infectmosquitoes who then infect humans. This is not the case with horses.

“Severe illness arising from JEV infection in humans is rare and most peoplewill have no symptoms at all if infected.

“However, a very small proportion of people infected may develop a seriousillness such as encephalitis and experience symptoms including neck stiffness,severe headache, and coma, and more rarely, permanent neurologicalcomplications or death.

“Encephalitis is the most serious clinical consequence of JEV infection.Illness usually begins with symptoms such as sudden onset of fever, headache,and vomiting.

“Anyone experiencing these symptoms, particularly if they’ve visited regionsin eastern Australia or South Australia where there has been high mosquitoactivity, should seek urgent medical attention.

“Clinicians should be aware of the possibility of infection caused by JEV inpatients in affected areas with encephalitis and refer people for appropriatetesting, after other common causes have been excluded.

“There is work underway to plan for targeted vaccinations. Two differentvaccines are available for protection against JEV in Australia and are verysafe and effective for both adults and children.

“However, prevention is always better than a cure and there are simple stepswe can all take to avoid our exposure to infected mosquitos.

“People in areas of high mosquito activity in Eastern Australia should usemosquito repellent containing picaridin or DEET on all exposed skin.

“Wear long, loose fitting clothing when outside, and ensure accommodation,including tents, are properly fitted with mosquito nettings or screens.

“We will continue to meet with health authorities in the states andterritories to progress the public health response to this disease.”

To report suspected JEV in pigs or other animals, contact your localveterinarian or call the national Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on1800 675 888.

Tagged: Japanese encephalitis

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