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Australian floods could cause Japanese encephalitis surge: expert

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Canberra, March 9 (IANS) Experts have warned that catastrophic flooding on Australia’s east coast could exacerbate the country’s outbreak of Japanese encephalitis.

Japanese encephalitis (JE) is a virus spread through the bite of an infected mosquito to humans, horses and pigs.

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It can cause inflammation of the brain, nausea, high fever and death, Xinhua news agency reported.

Ava Easton, Chief Executive of international peak body, the Encephalitis Society, warned that mosquitoes carrying JE “will be proliferating” amid the floods in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales.

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“Encephalitis is a code-red condition that remains under-recognised,” she told the Australian Associated Press (AAP).

“As Australia faces ongoing extreme weather conditions we are urging all Australians to equip themselves with knowledge about this very real disease and to not dismiss it as a low-risk probability or something too rare to talk about.”

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Easton’s warning came as authorities in Victoria announced that a man in his 60s died from the virus on February 28.

There have been several confirmed cases of JE in Australia since late February, including two in New South Wales and one in Queensland, marking the nation’s first outbreak since 1995, prompting the federal government to declare it a ‘Communicable Disease Incident of National Significance’.

Karin Leder, Head of the Infectious Diseases Epidemiology Unit at Monash University, said the outbreak should act as a warning of climate change on public health.

“The reports of multiple cases of JE acquired in Australia occurring at the same time as severe flooding serves as a warning of the significant potential for new human health threats associated with climate change, including the emergence of new pathogens and the appearance of known infections in new localities,” she said in a media release.

“The cases now occurring represent the first time a cluster of locally-acquired JE cases has been reported on the Australian mainland.”

–IANS

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