By PETER CATON
ROLL out the mosquito repellent and cover up - that's the word from health authorities in the wake of yesterday's rain.
Director of the North Coast public health unit Greg Bell has warned freshwater mosquitoes inevitably increase after heavy rain.
Recent high tides are bound to also mean an increase in saltmarsh mosquitoes.
Both carry the debilitating Ross River and Barmah Forest diseases.
The danger has been borne out by a study of mosquitoes captured in the region which isolated samples of the Ross River virus.
Mr Bell said yesterday health authorities had been warning North Coasters to avoid being bitten for some time because of the number of the so-called arbovirus diseases reported here.
"What this test did show was we weren't raving on for nothing," he said.
Mr Bell said scientists at Sydney's Westmead hospital had been sent local mosquitoes, "ground them up" and discovered the virus in the resulting paste.
He warned that while infections had not reached the high numbers of four years ago, 20 North Coasters had fallen ill with Ross River Fever and 25 with Barmah Forest Fever in the first 12 weeks of this year - a rate similar to the past two years.
"Although the disease does not kill people, it is very debilitating," he added.
"It does affect the ability to work and their quality of life."
Mr Bell said people should avoid being bitten by covering up with loose-fitting clothing when outside, especially at dawn and dusk.
They should use an insect repellent containing diethyl toluamide (DEET). Roll-ons, he said, appeared to be the best.
Householders should also avoid leaving open water containers lying around and should consider installing insect screens.
Scientists at the Department of Medical Entomology at Westmead Hospital have echoed Mr Bell's warning that wet weather increases the risk of being infected.
Scientist Stephen Doggett said virus activity peaked at this time of the year on the North Coast.