Sentinel Chickens Spark Human Disease Warning

ANALYSIS - Several Australian states are on alert for Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE), following the finding of the infection in sentinel flocks of chickens recently. The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes and can infect several animal species, including humans, in which a small proportion of cases may have life-threatening symptoms.
calendar icon 3 January 2012
clock icon 4 minute read

Health authorities in Australia are warning of a possible outbreak of Murray Valley encephalitis (MVE), a rare but potentially deadly disease in people, reports the BBC in the UK. Cases of MVE have already been found in chickens, it adds.

The mosquito-borne disease has recently been found in chickens in Australia's most populous state, New South Wales. Humans can also be infected and while many patients show only mild symptoms, some may suffer long-term neurological problems or even die.

People planning to head west and south of the state over the holiday break are warned to take extra precautions and protect themselves against mosquitoes following the detection of the MVE virus in New South Wales, according to Cowra Community News.

The MVE virus has been detected in sentinel chickens located near Leeton, Hay and Moama in the south of New South Wales, and also in the Macquarie Marshes in the west approximately 100km from Brewarrina, Walgett, Nyngan and Coonamble townships.

Because MVE and other more common mosquito-borne infection are prevalent in summer and autumn, everyone should take simple measures to avoid mosquito bites. State Director of Health Protection, Jeremy McAnulty, says the latest detections should serve as an important reminder for people to protect themselves.

Not only the state of New South Wales is on alert.

Health authorities in Victoria are also warning people to protect themselves against mosquitoes following detection of MVE, reports ABC.

MVE has been detected in specially placed chicken flocks – sentinel flocks – designed to act as early warning system for the virus in western and southern New South Wales, including on the Murray River border town of Moama, which is just across from the Victorian town of Echuca.

It has prompted health authorities in both states to warn people to take extra precautions against mosquitoes and watch out for the symptoms of the disease which include severe headache, fever, neck stiffness, drowsiness and confusion.

The last major outbreak of MVE in humans was in New South Wales and other parts of Australia in the 1970s, when 60 to 80 cases were reported in people, according to ABC. Since then, there we been occasional human cases, most recently in the last summer when two people were found to have the infection.

South Australia (SA) Health has also issued a mosquito warning, according to The organisation warns about Kunjin virus – which has not been found in the state for more than 20 years – as well as the more common Ross River Virus and Barmah Forest Virus. Potentially deadly MVE, it says, which killed an SA man last year, has been found in birds in Western Australia and New South Wales but not in SA.

The Health authority in Victoria reported in March and May 2008 that MVE had been detected in a sentinel chicken flocks in northern Victoria.

None of these recent reports indicates the symptoms or course of the disease in chickens.

Further Reading

- Go to our previous news item on this story by clicking here.

Further Reading

- You can view a fact-sheet on MVE from the New South Wales Goverment by clicking here.
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