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Japanese Encephalitis in Brisbane

March 7th, 2022


As if this year hasn’t been bad enough – with global warming, pandemic, the war in Europe, and flooding across the east coast, now Japanese Encephalitis (JE) – a monstrous disease of travellers has arrived on our doorstep.

There has been much in the media like this from the Guardian or this from the ABC.

Previous blog articles I have written on JE and cases in travellers are  here and here and here and here. JE is a nasty little virus.

It is being found in piggeries and the disease is rather closely mirroring the location of piggeries in Australia – map here.

This week, we have received many phone calls from concerned Brisbane residents asking about the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine.

Most persons (99%) who catch JE do not get sick, but those who do get sick get VERY sick. We cannot tell who is at risk of becoming gravely ill. The problem is that in those who do get very sick, there is no direct treatment for this virus.  Of those who fall ill,  about 1/3 die, 1/3 are brain-damaged and 1/3 survive.

At present, the authorities recommend vaccination for farmers, persons working around pigs, and travellers.  Many of our travellers will have heard about Japanese Encephalitis during their travel consultations. Some people living in Brisbane will be vaccinated already – because they have travelled to risk areas overseas.

There are two types of JE vaccine. I am not allowed to mention their names but one is a live vaccine that is used for most people, and gives long-lasting protection, the other is a ‘dead’ vaccine that is particularly used for persons whose immune system is depressed and cannot cope with live vaccines. This one gives more short-term protection

The vaccines are very safe – our research group has published a review of their safety profile in the Australian setting here.

Mosquito diseases are always an issue in Brisbane. Many houses are screened, and we know about mosquito avoidance: long-sleeved light-coloured clothing, and repellents containing DEET or picaridin.   Brisbane regularly has cases of Ross River Fever and even Barmah Forest virus. In North Queensland, we have periodic outbreaks of Dengue Fever. All this recent rain will be a boon for mosquitoes.

JE gives an added emphasis to the importance of mosquito avoidance.

If you are worried about your personal risk of JE, you can consult with one of our doctors.

For the last 12 months or so, we have been working on a research project to try to make the JE vaccine more accessible to travellers. We are giving the Australian registered JE vaccine as a microdose into the skin. This will make it cheaper ( we hope it will be about $60 instead of the usual $300).  We have finished enrolling and are now waiting on the results. More information on the research can be found here.

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