Murray Valley Encephalitis – Australia

A fatal case of a mosquito–borne encephalitis has occurred on the Tiwi Islands, NT Australia.

While the specific mosquito–borne virus responsible remains unknown at this time, it is considered to most likely be Murray Valley encephalitis virus or Kunjin virus.

The government is asking people in the area to be vigilant about mosquitos. People most at risk include campers, infants and young children residing near mosquito-breeding areas.

Photo: Flavivirus.

Murray valley encephalitis is endemic to northern Australia and Papua New Guinea. In humans, it can cause permanent neurological disease or death. This virus is related to Kunjin virus, which has a similar ecology, but a lower morbidity rate.

Occasionally the virus spreads to the southern states during times of heavy rainfall during the summer monsoon season via seasonal flooding of the Murray-Darling River system. Epidemics usually occur due to either infected birds or mosquitoes migrating from endemic areas to non-endemic areas.

Human infection occurs only through bites from infected mosquitoes; the virus cannot be transmitted from person to person.

The first epidemics occurred in 1917 and 1918 in Southeastern Australia following years of high rainfall. The virus was isolated from human samples in 1951 during an epidemic in the Murray Valley, Australia.

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