Torres Strait outer island residents urged to vaccinate against JEV

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Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service Public Health Medical Officer Dr Allison Hempenstall

Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service Public Health Medical Officer Dr Allison Hempenstall

Summary

Health authorities are reminding Torres Strait outer island residents they are eligible to be vaccinated for free against Japanese Encephalitis Virus (JEV).

Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service Public Health Medical Officer Dr Allison Hempenstall said there had not been a human case of JEV in the Torres Strait since 1998.

“There were two confirmed cases then, three years after the disease was first detected in the Torres Strait region in 1995, when there were three human cases, two of whom died,’’ she said.

“As a result of those previous outbreaks and the potential risk of JEV coming across from Papua New Guinea in infected mosquitoes, vaccination has always been part of the Queensland immunisation schedule for the outer islands of the Torres Strait.

“Vaccination is an effective way of preventing the disease and is recommended for all residents of the outer islands of the Torres Strait region who are 12 months of age or older.

“It is also recommended for all those aged 12 months of age or older who are living or working for more than a cumulative total of 30 days in the outer islands during the wet season from December to May.

“Two doses of JEV vaccine are required for eligible people aged from 12 months to 17 years – which must be 12 months apart – and one dose for persons aged 18 years and older.

“JEV vaccinations can be accessed through your local island primary healthcare centre.

“Currently, 49 per cent of eligible outer islands residents are fully vaccinated against JEV and 21 per cent are partially vaccinated.

“That leaves about 30 per cent of eligible residents who have not been vaccinated and we would like to encourage them to be vaccinated.

“Outside of the special circumstances of the outer islands of the Torres Strait, JEV vaccination is recommended only for people working in high-risk industries such as intensive livestock farming.’’

Dr Hempenstall said there was heightened awareness of JEV in the Torres Strait, Cape York and Northern Peninsula Area following the detection of the virus in some feral pigs in an area north of the Skardon River on western Cape York peninsula in June. No human cases have occurred.

“It’s important to understand that JEV is transmitted to humans through mosquito bites only,’’ Dr Hempenstall said.

“It cannot be transmitted from human-to-human or direct from pigs, or by consuming pork or pig products.

“The majority of human infections of JEV cause no symptoms or mild symptoms such as headache or fever.

“A person with severe disease may present with inflammation of the brain (encephalitis),
characterised by sudden onset of vomiting, high fever and chills, severe headache, sensitivity to light, neck stiffness and nausea/vomiting.’’

Dr Hempenstall said the best defence against mosquito bites was to avoid being bitten in the first place.

“We therefore encourage all Torres Strait, Cape York and Northern Peninsula Area residents to take necessary steps to protect themselves from mosquito bites.

Measures to prevent mosquito bites include regularly applying insect repellent containing Diethyl Toluamide (DEET), Picaridin; wearing loose, light-coloured clothing to cover up arms, legs and feet; and using other insecticide-based mosquito control devices where possible when outside.

Dr Hempenstall said mosquito bites could be experienced at any time of day, but the culex
species responsible for JEV transmission were most active at dusk and night.

“It’s also important to ensure flyscreens are in good order so mosquitoes can’t enter your home easily,’’ she said.

JEV is a nationally notifiable disease in both humans and animals.

For more information visit Japanese Encephalitis on the Queensland Health website.