Rising risk from bites

By ED SOUTHORN

TWEED residents are urged to take precautions against mosquito bites after record numbers of cases on the North Coast of the Ross River and Barmah Forest viruses.

Every local authority district from Port Macquarie to the Tweed has recently reported cases of the mossieborne viruses.

Hotspots for Ross River virus are Byron Shire (21 cases) and Coffs Harbour (20 cases), with more than 10 reported cases in each of the Tweed, Lismore, Kempsey and Port Macquarie authority areas.

The highest per capita rates for Barmah Forest virus are the Bellingen, Nambucca and Kempsey council areas.

North Coast Area Health Service Public Health Director Paul Corben yesterday said: "Late summer rainfall, high tides and warm conditions over recent weeks have provided ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes and this has been reflected in the high mosquito numbers at some of our trapping sites.

"Finding these viruses in local mosquitoes confirms the risk to North Coast residents of contracting Ross River virus or Barmah Forest virus from mosquito bites.

"So far this year, we have 132 reported cases of Ross River virus, with 75 in the first half of March alone.

"This is the highest number of cases reported in this period in a decade and almost six times the average number of cases for the same period over the past five years.

"We have also received 61 reported cases of Barmah Forest virus infection, almost double the five-yearly average for this time of year.

"We are now heading into the peak season for mosquitoborne illness, which usually occurs in April and May.

"We could be in for a very bad year.

"We strongly advise people to protect themselves from mosquito bites, especially during the Easter break."

Mr Corben urged locals to clean up mosquito breeding sites, cover up and use insect repellent.

He said the virus symptoms are flu-like and can last for several months.



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