Australia Initiates National Response to Outbreak of Japanese Encephalitis

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Australia’s acting chief medical officer has declared that a national response is needed to clamp down on an outbreak of Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV).

Dr. Sonya Bennett declared the virus a Communicable Disease Incident of National Significance on March 4, as health officials deal with the emergence of 16 cases of the disease, according to figures obtained by AAP.

“A national working group of communicable disease, vaccine, and arbovirus experts has been established to support the response, including mosquito surveillance and control measures and identification of those at direct risk, and for the rollout of vaccines,” she said in a statement. “Public health communications regarding mosquito protection will target affected communities.”

“The Australian government’s health and agriculture departments are working very closely with their state government counterparts to ensure a swift and coordinated response.”

JEV is transmitted through mosquito bites and mostly occurs in pigs or horses. Pigs, however, carry the strain that can be transmitted to humans. While most cases are commonly asymptomatic,  those with severe infection may experience neck stiffness, coma, and, more rarely, permanent neurological complications or death.

The virus usually presents with a sudden onset of fever, headache and vomiting.  Australian authorities note it cannot be transmitted from human to human or by eating meat from an infected animal.

On March 3, health officials from the state of Queensland confirmed one case of JEV, while Victorian authorities confirmed four suspected cases connected to a piggery near Echuca in the state’s north.

Currently, four people have been admitted to hospital in Australia. One has since been discharged.

The Australian federal government is working with its state counterparts on distributing vaccines to at-risk population groups—mainly those in regional areas.

In fact, Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Mark Schipp has confirmed that JEV was found in 14 pig farms across New South Wales, South Australia, Queensland, and Victoria.

“The key signs to look out for in pigs are stillborn or weak piglets, some with an impaired nervous system. Piglets can develop encephalitis or wasting, depression or hindlimb paralysis. Adult sows do not typically show signs of disease,” he said.

“Pig producers are asked to be highly vigilant for signs of this disease and report unexplained pig abortions or stillbirths,” he added, calling on farmers to practice good biosecurity and control mosquitoes.

“Horse owners can also put measures in place to help their horses avoid mosquito bites, including using hooded rugs, fly masks, and applying a safe insect repellent.”

People living in areas with high mosquito populations are encouraged to use repellent containing picaridin or DEET and cover up with loose-fitting clothing.

If you suspect an animal is showing signs of the disease, report it to your local veterinarian or the national Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888

Daniel Y. Teng


Daniel Y. Teng is based in Sydney. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at

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