Mosquito virus alert
TWEED residents are being warned to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes after a dramatic increase in the Barmah Forest virus infection rates on the North Coast.
Infection rates of the mosquito-borne virus, that has similar symptoms to the Ross River virus, have nearly doubled on a yearly basis for the last five years when compared to the infection rates from 1995 to 2000, the director of the North Coast Area Health Service Public Health Unit, Paul Corben, said yesterday.
"On average over the past five years we have been notified of about 200 cases each of Barmah Forest virus and Ross River virus per year, with the North Coast having about three quarters of the state's reported cases of Barmah Forest virus and about 45 per cent of the cases of Ross River virus," Mr Corben said.
"We don't know why this is happening, which is why we are working closely with our colleagues in the field in both Sydney and in the Hunter, to find out more about the disease."
The Tweed and Ballina areas will be included in a mosquito-catching program to help medical professionals better understand why these outbreaks reoccur.
Mr Corben said infection of the Barmah Forest virus, like the Ross River virus, must be reported to the NSW Public Health Unit, and there have been spikes in the incidence rates on the Mid-North Coast in 2001 and on the Northern Rivers and Tweed in 2003, due to flooding.
He said previous North Coast outbreaks began about January, and peaked from late March to mid-May.
Although figures for 2005 are incomplete, and only include reports until the end of November, Mr Corben said 277 incidences of the Barmah Forest virus were reported, while 202 people were reported to have Ross River infection for the same period.
Mr Corben said the flu-like symptoms of the Barmah Forest Virus appear within five to 21 days, but usually between 7-10 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.
Those infected may feel fever, chills, headache, and aches in the muscles and joints.
Some people may develop joint swelling and stiffness, which is particularly noticeable in the mornings. A rash that appears on the trunk of the body or limbs, sometimes appears for about seven to 10 days.
Mr Corben said the best thing to do when you have the symptoms is to see your doctor who can test for the illness and help treat the symptoms.
There is no specific treatment for the illness, but most people completely recover within a few weeks, although others may experience symptoms on and off for more than three months, and in a very rare cases, people may experience them for longer periods.
For more information visit www.health.nsw.gov.au and follow the infectious diseases links.