Queenslanders warned to watch for mozzies as Ross River virus rates rise

The number of confirmed cases of Ross River virus rose in Queensland this year, and health workers are reminding the public to be aware of the risk of mosquito-borne diseases.

Much of the state is hoping for a good wet season to break the ongoing drought, but with wet conditions and standing water comes increased risk of diseases such as Ross River and Barmah Forest viruses.

Dr Margaret Young is director of Queensland Health's Wide Bay public health unit, and is a specialist in promoting health and preventing disease at a population-wide level.

Dr Young said there had been an increase in Ross River virus notifications across the state this year.

"These diseases do fluctuate from year to year. They have a seasonal pattern with most infections occurring over the summer and early-autumn period, which aligns with rainfall and mosquito breeding conditions," Dr Young said.

The Wide Bay region, which takes in southern Queensland cities and towns including Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, as well as west to Gayndah and Monto, had 185 confirmed cases of Ross River virus in 2015, compared to 149 in 2014.

"In other parts of Queensland they've noticed a stronger increase," Dr Young said.

These figures only include cases which have been confirmed by blood tests, and Dr Young said it was unclear whether the figures reflected a true increase in disease rates or whether increased testing was picking up cases that would previously not have been recorded.

Wet season expected to bring more disease cases

With the storm season already here and the wet season on its way, mosquito numbers are expected to take off, and with them the incidence of diseases such as Ross River and Barmah Forest virus.

"At the moment laboratory-notified infections of mosquito-borne diseases are low, but we expect to see them start increasing as we come into the summer months," Dr Young said.

There are no effective treatments available for either virus.

Common symptoms include fever, joint pain, and feeling tired and generally unwell.

While most people recover after two to three weeks, some cases are very serious and can leave lingering problems such as arthritis in small joints, like those in the hands and feet.

How you can prevent mosquito-borne diseases

  • Use an insect repellent if you are outdoors and notice mosquito activity, particularly in the evenings and early mornings
  • Long-sleeved loose clothing, particularly light colours, can reduce mosquito bites
  • If your house is not screened, use mosquito nets to protect you while sleeping
  • Remove containers that could harbour stagnant water where mosquitoes could breed, including old tyres, toys, and fallen palm fronds
  • Empty and wash necessary containers like pets water bowls twice a week to prevent mosquito larvae breeding in them
  • Keep lawns mowed, as water can pool in the base of thick grass
  • Use insect spray to control active mosquitoes.

Source: ABC News

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