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A Victorian man has died from the Japanese encephalitis virus. What is it, exactly?

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A Victorian man has died from Japanese Encephalitis Virus (JEV) and at least two locally-acquired cases from the NSW-Victorian border region have been admitted to hospital.

The virus is developed in pigs and horses, but spreads to humans via mosquitoes. It is not normally found in Australia but has now been detected in pigs in Victoria, NSW, Queensland, and South Australia.

Here is what you need to know about the virus.

How does it spread?

Although the virus develops in pigs and horses, it can’t be transmitted to humans by them (including from eating them). It also can’t be spread from person to person. It is spread by infected mosquitoes.
Health authorities have asked people living in areas of high mosquito activity to avoid mosquito bites.

Is it dangerous?

The vast majority of infected people will not develop symptoms and less than 1% will develop a serious illness.
However, about 25-30% of symptomatic cases are fatal.
According to Government advice, early symptoms include sudden fever, headache and vomiting. The Government has urged those experiencing these symptoms to seek urgent medical attention, particularly if they’ve visited regions in eastern Australia or South Australia with high mosquito activity.
More serious symptoms can include neck stiffness, severe headache, coma, and permanent neurological complications.

Is there a vaccine?

Yes, vaccines for adults and children are available for protection against JEV in Australia. The vaccine is normally reserved for people travelling to Asia, the Torres Strait region, and other high-risk areas.
However, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has said work is underway for “targeted vaccinations” in outbreak areas.

Taking precautions

Acting Federal Chief Medical Officer Dr Sonya Bennett has said “prevention is always better than a cure”.
It is advised for people in areas of high mosquito activity “to use mosquito repellent containing picaridin or DEET on all exposed skin” and to “wear long, loose-fitting clothing when outside, and ensure accommodation, including tents, are properly fitted with mosquito nettings or screens.”

Why is this happening?

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud told the ABC the virus, previously only detected in Northern Australia, has moved south due to the “changing climate”. Littleproud said it was likely spread by infected birds who migrated due to the La Niña weather pattern, which has meant there is more water available further south.
Tropical diseases also spread further in warmer and humid climates, which is why experts predict mosquito-transmitted diseases will spread to more parts of the world due to climate change.

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