Understanding Japanese encephalitis virus

A QIMR Berghofer senior mosquito scientist is calling for a national surveillance network that can help predict, detect and manage mosquito-borne diseases such as the emerging Japanese encephalitis virus.

Head of QIMR Berghofer’s Mosquito Control Laboratory, Associate Professor Greg Devine said the outbreak in several states marked the first time the potentially deadly virus had been found outside far northern Australia.

“The southern spread of JEV shows that extreme weather events and climate heating might lead to the establishment or emergence of other mosquito-borne diseases of public health significance in Australia. This is of particular concern where there are no vaccines available,” Associate Professor Devine said.

JEV has a high fatality rate of around 30 per cent, in the very small number of people who develop symptoms.

“This virus had been circulating for some time before it was picked up. That signals that Australia desperately needs a coordinated national surveillance network to monitor and manage emerging mosquito-borne viruses and other viral pathogens,” Associate Professor Devine said.

The Mosquito Control Laboratory at QIMR Berghofer is helping to screen mosquito collections from Queensland for viruses of public health importance but the geographic spread of the collections is small.

Associate Professor Devine said that recent warm, wet weather has impacted the migration patterns of wading birds infected with JEV and caused a huge proliferation of the type of freshwater mosquito that transmits the disease.

Occasionally, infected birds and burgeoning mosquito populations will converge close to piggeries. Pigs are a key amplifier of the disease, easily infecting mosquitoes and allowing onward transmission of the disease between pigs and humans.

“If our climate is to become warmer and frequently challenged by flood events we may find that JEV will circulate widely and continuously. JEV is expanding its range globally,” Associate Professor Devine said.

Dozens of piggeries have been infected with JEV across Australia, while a number of people have been hospitalised and at least two people have died.

You can learn more through our JEV Fact Sheet here

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