An alert has recently been issued for the Japanese encephalitis virus, which can cause symptoms including fever, headache and vomiting.
Although it’s rare, the disease resulting from the virus, Japanese encephalitis, can be serious for some people.
We take a look at this virus, describing its symptoms, causes and treatment.
What exactly is Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV)?
The Japanese encephalitis virus, also known as JEV, causes an illness called Japanese encephalitis where the brain swells.
While it’s rare outside Australia, the latest statistics (published on 8 September 2022) show 40 cases of JEV.
Very sadly, six people have died as a result of the virus.
Who is at risk of JEV?
JEV is found regularly in Asia, including India, Indonesia and Thailand, as well as the Torres Strait area of Australia. If you are travelling to places like these where JEV is endemic (found regularly there), then you will be at risk.
Japanese encephalitis symptoms
Not everyone who gets the virus will show any symptoms — in fact, only about 1 in 100 will.
Unfortunately, for those who do display signs of the virus, there is a risk of death or irreversible injury to the nervous system and brain.
Symptoms tend to appear from five to 15 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.
Mild symptoms include:
- A sudden fever
- Gastrointestinal pain
If the patient is affected severely by JEV, they may experience:
- A sudden high fever
- Neck stiffness
If you have been in an area where JEV has been reported and experience any of these symptoms, you should get medical help straight away.
Go to your local emergency department or call triple zero (000) for help.
How is the virus spread?
The virus is spread when people are bitten by infected mosquitoes.
While animals like pigs may also be infected with the virus, they can’t spread it to humans.
And you can’t catch it by coming into contact with someone with the infection.
How is Japanese encephalitis diagnosed?
Your doctor can diagnose you through observing your symptoms and performing a blood test or lumbar puncture, also known as a spinal tap. This is a procedure where a needle is inserted between two of your lumbar bones (vertebrae) to remove some of the fluid around your spinal cord.
Japanese encephalitis is a notifiable disease. This means that your doctor will need to inform the local authorities if a patient is diagnosed with it so they can take steps to keep the community safe.
How can I avoid getting Japanese encephalitis?
You can reduce the risk of being affected by getting a Japanese encephalitis virus vaccine and avoiding being bitten by mosquitoes. This is important if you are travelling to Asia or the Torres Strait region of Australia.
The current advice is for people who are spending a month or longer in these areas during the wet season to get vaccinated.
The same goes for people who work in labs or work with mosquitos or pigs. These groups may be exposed to JEV.
To avoid mosquito bites, follow these tips:
- Expose as little skin as possible. Wear long-sleeved shirts or tops and trousers, socks and enclosed footwear.
- Use a mosquito repellent and be sure to reapply it according to the instructions.
- Only use accommodation that has mosquito nets or flyscreens.
- Avoid areas of stagnant water as this is where mosquitoes like to breed.
What’s the treatment for Japanese encephalitis?
There is no specific treatment for Japanese encephalitis. The milder symptoms can be relieved by resting, drinking plenty of fluids and taking paracetamol for fever or pain.
If you are severely affected, you may be looked after in hospital.
What’s the long-term outlook if someone has had JEV?
People who have had Japanese encephalitis may be left with long-term issues including neurological and mental health problems.
Keeping you safe at home and away
Japanese encephalitis is a serious disease, but thankfully it is still rare in Australia.
If you have been travelling to an area where it’s more widespread and you experience symptoms, make sure you get medical help without delay.
Of course, symptoms like fever and headache are very common and are not usually a cause for concern. If Japanese encephalitis or other serious illnesses have been ruled out, you can treat these symptoms with over-the-counter medication like paracetamol and cooling products.
Good-quality thermometers are essential too so that you can monitor the patient’s temperature.
If you are planning to travel to an area that is known for Japanese encephalitis, it’s best to speak to your doctor for advice before you go.
And don’t forget to pack all the health and wellbeing products you need from our extensive range. We’re here to make every bit of your life — at home or away — as safe as possible.