Specialists inform mother and father to be alert however not alarmed about mosquito-borne illness Japanese encephalitis

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Health experts are reassuring parents there is no major threat to children after Queensland recorded its first locally acquired case of the mosquito-borne disease Japanese encephalitis.

A woman in her 60s remains in a critical condition in a Brisbane hospital after contracting the virus from a camper van trip in southern Queensland.

The disease has been detected in animal samples at piggeries in Goondiwindi and interstate, prompting a declaration of an issue of national significance.

But public health authorities maintain there is no cause for alarm among parents, despite children under five facing a higher risk of severe infection.

Here’s what you need to know.

Can my children get it?

The Director of Public Health for the Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service, Liam Flynn, said anyone of any age could be begged by a mosquito and get infected with the virus.

“Those who are more likely to have a severe infection include children under five years of age,” he said.

“So, it’s really important that all of us are prevented from getting bitten by mosquitoes, but especially our youngsters.”

Dr Liam Flynn is the Director of the Public Health Unit at the Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service. (Supplied: Darling Downs Health )

Griffith University’s Dr Ali Zaid, who studies the impact of mosquito-borne viruses, said most cases that researchers knew of in children were mild.

“There’s not a lot of studies because, as you can imagine, this is a virus that’s found in rural areas,” he said.

“[It has been found in] cattle stations and piggeries and so children usually aren’t too associated with those areas.”

Dr Zaid said the disease was mostly asymptomatic in children.

“Most people, about one per cent … of people who do get infected, will present with some kind of illness,” he said.

Pigs in an Australian piggery looking at the camera. Japanese encephalitis has recently been detected in animal samples at piggeries.(ABC Rural: Tom Edwards)

“In terms of overall risk, this is not something to be alarmed about yet, but it’s something we should keep our fingers crossed about at this stage.”

How can I protect my kids?

Dr Zaid said parents should ensure their children were protected from exposure to mosquito bites, particularly after the recent rain.

“Making sure the kids have a mosquito repellent on, avoiding dusk and dawn, this is the most rational approach we can take at this stage until we know more about whether mosquitoes, and which types of mosquitoes, are carrying the virus,” Dr Zaid said.

“Cover limbs and arms and make sure that if there’s any water accumulated around the house, that this gets tipped out regularly to avoid larvae growing.”

A man sprays his arm with repellent. Mosquito sprays and lotions must be applied to all exposed skin to be effective.(Flickr: Miguel Garces)

Should we be getting vaccinated?

Work is underway for targeted vaccinations to protect against Japanese encephalitis, but Dr Flynn said children weren’t being urged to get it.

“There are no specific treatments for Japanese encephalitis virus, but there is a vaccine … that is used in tropical areas to prevent severe infection,” he said.

“But really, prevention is better than cures so if we can prevent [people] being asked by mosquitoes in the first place, that’s far and away our best protection.”

Dr Zain said vaccines may be recommended if there was a significant local outbreak, but only to abattoir and rural workers at this stage.

“It would take evidence of community transmission … where one person gets begs and develops the disease and then spots of cases around that area,” he said.

“But at this stage, we haven’t seen this and with only one per cent of people showing symptoms, it’s tricky.”

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