Health authorities are encouraging all Cape York residents involved in pig-hunting to take advantage of the free vaccination program for Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV).
Torres and Cape medical officer Allison Hempenstall said JEV was transmitted to humans through the bite of a mosquito that had bitten an infectious animal, usually pigs or water birds.
She said there was heightened awareness of JEV on Cape York following the detection of the virus in some feral pigs in an area north of the Skardon River in June, and a further detection in pigs in the Mapoon area in September.
No human cases have occurred. “But it is clear that JEV has been transmitted at some time this year on Cape York Peninsula,” she said.
“As such, it is possible that further cases of JEV may occur in feral pigs across the region.
“It’s for this reason we are expanding the free JEV vaccination program that already exists in the Torres Strait and NPA to include Cape York.
“As a result of previous outbreaks in the mid-1990s and the potential risk of JEV coming across from Papua New Guinea in infected mosquitoes, vaccination is part of the Queensland immunisation schedule for the Torres Strait and NPA.
“Vaccination is an effective way of preventing the disease and is recommended for all residents of the Torres Strait and NPA who are 12 months of age or older.
“In addition, we are now recommending that all Cape York residents involved in pig-hunting also take advantage of the free JEV vaccination program.
“They can be accessed through your local primary healthcare centre.”
Dr Hempenstall said the best overall protection against JEV was to avoid mosquito bites.
“Personal protection includes wearing light-coloured, loosefitting clothing with long sleeves and long trousers, as well as using an effective insect repellent on any exposed skin,” she said.
Dr Hempenstall said 99 per cent of people infected with JEV had no or mild symptoms. JEV does not spread directly between people and there is no risk of JEV from consuming pork or pork products.
This article appeared in Cape York Weekly, 13 December 2022.