People in Gunnedah are now eligible to receive a free vaccination to protect themselves from a dangerous mosquito-borne virus.

The Japanese Encephalitis Virus is spread through bites from mosquitos, which become infected through biting infected pigs and waterbirds.

JEV is endemic to parts of Asia and the Torres Strait region of Australia.

Most cases of JEV in people are asymptomatic, however those with severe infection may experience neck stiffness, coma, and more rarely, permanent neurological complications or death.

Illness usually begins with symptoms such as sudden onset of fever, headache or vomiting.

In NSW, a free JEV vaccination is available for people aged two months or older who live or routinely work in 55 regional Local Government Areas with identified JEV risk, including Gunnedah, Gwydir, Inverell, Liverpool Plains, Moree Plains, Narrabri, Tamworth, Tenterfield and Upper Hunter.

People receiving the JEV vaccination must also:

• regularly spend time outdoors placing them at risk of mosquito bites, or

• are experiencing homelessness, or

• are living in conditions with limited mosquito protection such as tents, caravans, dwellings with no insect screens, or

• are engaging in prolonged outdoor flood recovery (clean-up) efforts, including repeated professional or volunteer deployments.

Vaccination against JEV is also recommended, although not free, for people travelling to Asia and the Torres Strait region of Australia and plan to travel in rural areas and undertake outdoor activities associated with an increased risk of mosquito bites (such as camping and hiking), or will be staying in accommodation without air-conditioning, screens or bed nets and will be spending a month or more in the region.

Hunter New England Public Health Physician, Dr David Durrheim, said people can take precautions to avoid being bitten.

“It is really important to protect yourself from mosquito bites as mosquitoes can spread viruses including Ross River and Barmah Forest viruses,” Dr Durrheim said.

“Symptoms following infection can include painful swollen joints; skin rashes; fever; fatigue; headaches and swollen lymph nodes.

“The fatigue and painful joints can persist for weeks and even months.

“The best way to avoid infection is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes altogether.”

Simple actions to avoid mosquito bites include:

• Cover up as much as possible with light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing and covered footwear when outside.

• Use an effective insect repellent on exposed skin and reapply within a few hours. The best mosquito repellents contain Diethyl Toluamide (DEET), Picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus.

• Most repellents are safe for use on children aged three months and older when used according to directions. Infants aged less than three months can be protected from mosquitoes by using an infant carrier draped with mosquito netting that is secured along the edges.

• Use insecticide sprays, vapour dispensing units (indoors) and mosquito coils (outdoors) to clear rooms or repel mosquitoes from an area.

• Cover all windows, doors, vents and other entrances with insect screens.

• Remove any water-holding containers outside the house where mosquitoes could breed.

According to the latest data available from the Australian government (published in June 2023), since January 1, 2021, 45 people have been infected with JEV in Australia and seven people died as a result.

There have been no new human cases identified in Australia since December 2022.

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