Following 15 confirmed cases of Japanese encephalitis in Australia, two of which resulted in death, the need for public education about the risk of infection has never been greater. As the government works to secure additional vaccines to combat the spread of the Japanese encephalitis virus, which is spread through mosquito bites, we take it upon ourselves to discuss the disease's causes and symptoms, as well as what effective treatment options are available for an infected person.
What is Japanese Encephalitis?
Japanese encephalitis (JE) is a serious mosquito-borne illness that can cause inflammation of the brain, also known as encephalitis, in horses, pigs and humans. The disease's name comes from the fact that it was first recorded in Japan in 1871. The virus is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito and can cause serious health problems, including death. Japanese encephalitis is most common in Asia, where it affects millions of people each year. The disease can also occur in other parts of the world, such as the Pacific Islands.
The Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) causes Japanese encephalitis. The viral infection often spreads in rural areas where there are a lot of pigs and mosquitoes. Japanese encephalitis can cause long-term health problems, such as seizures, paralysis and permanent brain damage. However, these effects are rare and most people who contract Japanese encephalitis make a full recovery. There is no specific cure for Japanese encephalitis virus infection, but treatment options include supportive care and medications to relieve symptoms.
Japanese encephalitis cannot be contracted by humans who eat infected pork meat because it is a mosquito-borne disease. Other than being bitten by a mosquito, there are no other modes of transmission.
Symptoms of Japanese Encephalitis
The physical symptoms of JE differ from person to person, with some showing no symptoms at all. Mild flu-like symptoms are commonly manifested by those who do become ill, such as:
- Muscle aches
- Joint pain
- Stiff neck
- Respiratory symptoms such as breathing difficulties
Seizures, movement disorders, confusion and coma are examples of severe symptoms. It is important to seek medical attention if you develop signs of disease after being exposed to a mosquito population or travelling to a place where Japanese encephalitis is known to occur.
Risk Factors for Severe Infection
People who travel to or live in areas where Japanese encephalitis is common are at a higher risk of contracting the viral disease. Japanese encephalitis occurs mainly in rural areas of Asia, where there are large numbers of pigs and mosquitoes. Japanese encephalitis is found in many parts of Asia, including Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand. It is also found in some parts of North America, the Pacific Islands and the Far East.
Japanese encephalitis can affect anyone, but certain groups are at a higher risk for contracting it. Those who are most at risk for contracting Japanese encephalitis include:
- Pig producers and other agricultural workers
- People who travel to or live in areas where the virus is endemic
- Outdoor labourers
- People who work in laboratories and conduct research on mosquito culture
- Children under the age of 15
It's also worth noting that mosquitoes become more active and capable of reproducing during the wet season. This explains why you get more insect bites when you're outside during the rainy season. If you notice tick bites on your body after going for a walk on a rainy afternoon in a Japanese encephalitis-prone area, don't put off seeing your healthcare provider.
Treatment Options for Japanese Encephalitis
There are a few common treatment options for Japanese encephalitis. Medical treatment usually begins with supportive care, such as fluids and rest. Some people may require intravenous antibiotics if they develop a bacterial infection. People with severe disease may require oxygen therapy or artificial ventilation. The type of treatment you will need will be determined by the results of your diagnosis, which will include blood tests or spinal fluid testing to determine the presence of antibodies to Japanese encephalitis.
There is also a Japanese encephalitis vaccine available that can help prevent the illness from developing. It is important to speak with a healthcare professional before travelling to an area where Japanese encephalitis is common to ensure you are up-to-date on the available vaccines and preventive measures.
Tips for Protecting Yourself From Japanese Encephalitis
Because there is no specific cure for Japanese encephalitis and treatments are based on how severe or mild the symptoms are, the best way to protect yourself from this serious illness is to avoid it altogether. In order to prevent Japanese encephalitis virus infection, you can take the following steps:
- Make sure to use effective mosquito repellents when travelling or spending time outdoors in areas where Japanese encephalitis is common to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants if possible.
- If you must sit or linger outside your home, use mosquito coils.
- Ensure your home is well-screened to keep mosquitoes out
- If you have to take your baby outdoors, cover their stroller with mosquito netting.
- If you are travelling to an area where Japanese encephalitis is present, be sure to get vaccinated against the virus.
There's no guarantee that these precautions will 100% protect you against Japanese encephalitis virus infection, but they can help reduce your risk. Japanese encephalitis can be a serious illness, so it's important to take whatever steps you can to prevent it.
Do not underestimate your body's natural protective abilities. Maintaining a strong immune response to Japanese encephalitis outweighs the benefits of pharmaceuticals. Eat a well-balanced diet rich in antioxidants, such as asparagus, broccoli, spinach, avocados and kale, to keep your body healthy. This will help protect your cells from damage caused by the virus. You can also boost your immune system by getting adequate exercise and sleep.
Japanese encephalitis is a life-threatening disease, but by taking these safety measures, you can increase your chances of staying healthy.