Wimmera mosquito warning after Ross River virus spike

HEALTH CONCERN: Stawell resident Ian Sibson contracted Ross River virus last year. PICTURE: Peter Pickering
HEALTH CONCERN: Stawell resident Ian Sibson contracted Ross River virus last year. PICTURE: Peter Pickering

ROSS River virus rates skyrocketed in the Wimmera in 2017, with health leaders warning residents to protect themselves from the mosquito-transmitted disease this summer.

Department of Health statistics show that in the Grampians region, there were 235 cases of Ross River last year.

This is up from 18 cases in 2016, 39 in 2015 and 20 in 2014.

Finder.com.au analysis of National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System data shows the national number of Ross River virus cases over the past 20 years is 98,218.

Females contracted the virus more than men, with 121 cases in women and 114 cases in men. 

The number of Ross River cases were also more than any other mosquito-borne disease sin the region, with seven cases of dengue fever and two cases of Barmah Forest virus diagnosed in the Grampians region. 

Wet weather in 2016 lead to a high number of mosquitoes in the region, which contributed to the rise of the disease.

Health department spokesman Bram Alexander said these figures do not indicate a spike in the presence of the disease going into 2018. 

“We are not seeing a significant increase in numbers for this time of year, this is historical data from summer 2017,” he said. 

Mr Alexander said while the figures were no cause for alarm, it was important people took practical measures to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. 

“Currently we are not seeing elevated numbers of notifications of Ross River virus but people should avoid mosquito bites where possible,” he said. 

“We can’t with great accuracy predict what the coming season will be like and we would urge people to take necessary precautions.

“The department will continue to actively monitor mosquito numbers and monitor instances of illness very closely.” 

Member for Western Victoria Jaala Pulford said while the higher numbers of mosquitoes during summer were mostly a nuisance, some mosquitoes could transmit diseases such as Ross River and Barmah Forest virus.

She said councils and the Department of Health and Human Services had programs in place to monitor and, where needed, reduce mosquito numbers.

“We know mozzies can be annoying, but some can transmit diseases, so Wimmera people need to be extra diligent and protect themselves this summer,” she said.

“Summer is a time of increased outdoor activity so visitors and residents should be taking measures to avoid mosquito bites as a critical step to protecting against illnesses.

“Beating the mozzie bites is simple and there are steps everyone in our community should take to protect themselves and their families this summer.”

Ms Pulford said mosquitoes were most active at dawn and dusk, although some species can be present and bite throughout the day.

Stawell resident Terry Dunn said staggering and limping around was his regular morning routine since he was diagnosed with Ross River virus in 2011 and then diagnosed with a re-infection in 2014.    

“It was early September in 2011 when I became aware something was not right health wise,” he said.

“I woke up one morning and my feet were so sore – I couldn’t walk without a walking stick.

“You really do suffer.”

Stawell resident Ian Sibson was diagnosed with Ross River virus in January last year.

He said the condition was very debilitating. 

Wimmera Health Care Group infection control co-ordinator Jan Spencer said a wet spring in 2016 contributed to the high number of mosquitoes in the region last year.

She said mosquitoes did not breed in water that was flowing, but when there were pools of water around, it provided the ideal breeding ground.