CONFIRMATION of the debilitating Ross River Virus in the Wellington Shire has prompted a warning from the health department and Wellington Shire Council for people to be vigilant when it comes to mosquito protection in coastal areas.
A council spokesperson confirmed that there had been three cases of Ross River Virus detected in the shire in recent months.
While it is unclear where the infections occurred, the Department of Health and Human Services has advised that Ross River Virus has been identified in mosquitoes in the Gippsland Lakes and around the 90 Mile Beach.
The virus is carried by infected mosquitoes who pass it on when they sting, and while there are mosquitoes that may carry the virus in all parts of Victoria, the risk is greatest in rural and regional Victoria, including many coastal holiday areas.
Infection can cause joint swelling and pain, fatigue and muscle aches which can persist for many months, and some sufferers may develop a rash and fever.
It takes three to nine days for symptoms of Ross River disease to occur after exposure, and occasionally up to 21 days.
While almost all people recover, symptoms may recur in some individuals for more than a year or more.
A Sale woman who was recently diagnosed with the virus said she thinks she may have picked it up in the Inverloch area during a three-day stay in the south Gippsland seaside town in mid-December.
“I don’t remember being stung, but obviously I must have been,” she said.
“I started to feel bad aches and pains a couple of days before New Year — wrists, ankles, feet, fingers — just about everywhere.
“Then a rash appeared on my arms and legs, and I’ve been feeling tired.”
“After reading in the Gippsland Times about the Ross River Virus warning, I began to think maybe it was that.
“I went to my doctor and my blood platelets were quite low, so I was bleeding and bruising easily.”
The woman, who is aged in her 50s, said her doctor received her results on Tuesday, which were positive for Ross River Virus.
“They will run another one to make sure it’s not a false positive, but I’m pretty confident the first result is correct,” she said.
The woman said she was fortunate to have a desk job, and so far had still been able to continue to work.
“I’m shuffling around like a 106-year-old most days — it’s like the worst arthritis you will ever get,” she said.
“At least it provides my workmates with some amusement.
“But if I had a physical job, there’s no way I’d be able to work — some mornings it has been a huge effort just to get out of bed.”
For now, there are no morning or afternoon walks, because it is all just to painful and exhausting.
“But I’m hopeful I’ll be one of those people who recover in weeks rather than months or years,” the woman said.
“I’ll just have to see how it plays out.”
The woman urged people to protect themselves against being stung by mosquitoes.
“Ross River Virus is no trivial illness — it can be quite painful and debilitating,” she said.
Wellington Shire Council mayor Alan Hall echoed the importance of people visiting or living in the shire’s coastal areas taking precautions.
“Our 90 Mile Beach is a fantastic place to holiday and to live, but as with all coastal areas in Australia we need to be aware of mosquitoes and the diseases they can transmit,” he said.
“Please make sure you take steps for personal protection against mosquitoes by wearing repellent, protective clothing and taking measures to stop mosquitoes from entering buildings.”
Mosquito spraying has been conducted at the Honeysuckles, Loch Sport and Seaspray, in line with the council’s seasonal management program.
The council spokeswoman said lower mosquito activity had been recorded in traps and other monitoring methods partly due to the drought, but the risks remained.
“Council’s mosquito management activities can only have limited impact on overall mosquito numbers, so residents and visitors are urged to take action to help prevent mosquitoes from breeding on their properties and taking steps for their own personal protection,” she said.
Tips to help prevent being stung:
• Apply mosquito repellent regularly (every four hours). Repellents containing DEET or Picaridin are recommended, and are most effective and long lasting in a lotion form;
• Attach insect screens to the windows and doors of your house to allow air in and keep mosquitoes out;
• Avoid outside areas at dawn and dusk;
• Use an insecticide in sleeping areas, according to instructions;
• Wear light coloured, loose-fitting clothes with long sleeves and long trousers. Mosquitoes are attracted to dark coloured clothes and can sting through tight clothes;
• Ensure flyscreens on houses, caravans and annexes are in good condition with no gaps;
• When camping, take precautions such as using flyscreens on caravans and tents, and by sleeping under mosquito nets;
• Take particular care while fishing, ensuring that you follow personal precautions to avoid being stung by mosquitoes.
For more information about how to avoid being bitten by mosquitos, visit www.wellington.vic.gov.au, www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/campaigns/beat-the-bite or phone the environmental health office on 1300 366 244.