Health alert issued after potentially deadly mosquito-borne viruses are detected

South Australians have been warned to protect themselves against mosquito bites after a potentially deadly mosquito-borne virus was detected in a chicken.

Routine monitoring of sentinel chickens found one of five chickens in a surveillance flock based near Meningie, southeast of Adelaide, tested positive for Murray Valley Encephalitis Virus (MVEv) and Kunjin virus, SA Health said.

The Department for Health and Wellbeing’s Acting Executive Director of Health Protection and Licensing Services, Dr Fay Jenkins said the detection of the virus should serve as a reminder to South Australians to remain vigilant.

“We know there has been an increase in the number of mosquitoes present along the Murray River this season, however, the detection of MVEv and Kunjin virus is an even stronger reminder for all South Australians to be vigilant in their fight against mosquito bites across the State,” Jenkins said.

“Many people infected with MVEv are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms such as fever, headache and nausea.

“Although only a few people who become infected with MVEv will develop more serious symptoms which may include confusion, headaches, neck stiffness, tremors, drowsiness and seizures, for those who do, it can be very serious and is fatal in about 20 per cent of cases. For those who survive, about 40 per cent of people will suffer permanent neurological damage.”

There is currently no vaccine or cure for the virus, which is only transmitted through mosquito bites.

“The only way of preventing disease is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes,” Jenkins said.

“To protect against mosquito borne diseases, we are encouraging people to ‘fight the bite’ and take precautions such as wearing long, loose-fitting, light coloured clothing and use a repellent which contains DEET or picaridin.

“People should also reduce the risk of being bitten by mosquitos by proofing their homes and by removing any potential breeding sites on their properties.”

No cases of the MVEv in humans have been notified in SA for two decades.

As part of its mosquito-borne diseases monitoring program, SA Health has six flocks of sentinel chickens in strategic locations along the Murray River.

The chickens are routinely tested for viruses.

The remainder of the chicken flocks along the Murray tested negative to the virus this season to date but several chickens in another flock near Waikerie tested positive to MVEv and KUNv in March 2020.

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