Australia Flooding Causes Japanese Encephalitis Outbreak

Australian government officials said the government is buying extra vaccines to fight the potentially deadly, mosquito-borne Japanese encephalitis virus, which has spread down the flood-hit east coast for the first time.

Australia’s health and agriculture ministries said the government would invest US$51 million on control measures, including buying an additional 130,000 vaccine doses, bolstering the 15,000 now in stock, and improving surveillance.

New South Wales public health pathology director Dominic Dwyer said Japanese encephalitis is a common cause of viral brain infections in Asia.

“It has not come by boat or plane like COVID-19, but probably by migratory birds visiting inland waterways and then mosquitoes, whose numbers have increased in eastern Australia with the wetter conditions, heavy rains, and floods,” Dwyer wrote in a report published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

According to state health authorities, previously confined to the tropical north, Japanese encephalitis has traveled as far south as South Australia since late February—infecting 17 people and killing two.

Australia’s agriculture minister, David Littleproud, said mosquitoes were trapped at all infected piggeries.

“A national surveillance plan is being developed to identify and locate infected mosquitoes, birds, pigs—including feral pigs—horses, and humans,” Littleproud said.

New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, which had never before reported locally acquired infections, confirmed the existence of Japanese encephalitis in their states.

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