Australia has been hit by its first-ever major outbreak of Japanese encephalitis, a deadly disease that causes the brain to swell up. Meanwhile, scientists have raised alarm bells over this outbreak, warning that it may a result of climate change. Japanese encephalitis (JE) is a viral brain infection that’s spread through mosquito bites, though it originates in pigs and birds.
According to the NHS, the disease is most common in rural areas in southeast Asia, the Pacific islands and the Far East, but is very rare in travellers.
The NHS website says: “It cannot be spread from person to person.
“There’s currently no cure for Japanese encephalitis.”
While most people infected by the Japanese encephalitis virus have either no symptoms or mild flu like symptoms, more serious cases can be fatal.
The NHS warns that around “1 in every 250 people who become infected with Japanese encephalitis develop more severe symptoms as the infection spreads to the brain.”
In such scenarios, the infection spreads can encephalitits, which is a condition where the brain gets inflamed or swollen and can be life threatening.
The Centre of Disease Control and Prevention in the US warns that the more serious side effects for JE include coma, tremors and convulsions.
The agency added that 20 to 30 percent of the patients who develop JE die.
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These wetlands likely attracted migratory birds from Asia, some of which would have carried the virus.
Since then, the birds would have come in contact with Australia local mosquitos, which are currently in higher than normal populations thanks to its warm and wet weather, helping the insects breed.
According to Mr Hall, once the mosquitos were infected, they would pass it onto pigs, amplifying the infection to potentially millions of pigs.
Karin Leder at Monash University in Melbourne believes that climate change may to be blame for the outbreak, as record-breaking rainfall, floods and warm temperatures created the “perfect storm” for JE to reach Australia.
Ms Leder said: “We’re seeing changes in rainfall and temperature that are affecting the behaviours of the birds that host the virus, as well as increased breeding of the mosquitoes that spread it”.
According to Gregor Devine at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane, the ongoing climate crisis will only increase the risks of other mosquito borne illnesses entering Australia or becoming worse as the temperatures get warmer.
Mr Devine noted that dengue-carrying mosquitoes that reside in northern Australia could migrate south as it gets warmer.
Mr Hall added: “We’re going to see more mosquito-borne diseases.”
“Exactly where, exactly when, we don’t know, but it will happen.”
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