What is Japanese encephalitis
Japanese encephalitis is a mosquito-borne disease caused by the Japanese encephalitis virus. The virus is transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes. The principal type of mosquito that transmits the disease is called Culex tritaeniorhynchus. The disease occurs mainly in the rural and agricultural areas of Asia and the Western Pacific Region.
Mode of transmission
The infected mosquito transmits the virus to humans and animals during biting. The mosquitoes breed where there is abundant water such as rice paddies and become infected by feeding on pigs and wild birds infected with the Japanese encephalitis virus. The disease is not directly transmitted from person to person.
Signs and symptoms
Symptoms usually start at around 4 – 14 days after being infected. Mild infections may occur without apparent symptoms other than fever with headache. More severe infection is marked by quick onset of headache, high fever, neck stiffness, impaired mental state, coma, tremors, convulsions (especially in children) and paralysis.
Treatment and complications
There is no specific treatment for this disease. Supportive therapy is indicated. The case-fatality rate can be as high as 30% among those with symptoms. Of those who survive, 20% – 30% suffer permanent intellectual, behavioural or neurological problems such as paralysis, recurrent seizures or inability to speak.
How to prevent the disease
To prevent contracting the disease, one should take general measures to prevent mosquito bites and avoid going to rural areas from dusk till dawn when the mosquitoes spreading this virus are most active. People planning to travel to areas in which Japanese encephalitis is endemic should take special note.
Vaccination for Japanese Encephalitis
The incidence of Japanese encephalitis has been declining in some regions of China, in Japan and the Republic of Korea and more recently in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam, largely as a result of vaccination. Vaccination for Japanese encephalitis is available in Hong Kong but it is usually not recommended for members of the general public. Vaccination is recommended for travellers who plan to stay one month or longer in endemic areas, particularly in rural areas; and for short-term (less than one month) travellers if they plan to have significant extensive outdoor or night-time exposure in rural areas during the transmission season of the disease. For further information on Japanese encephalitis vaccination and outbreak news in other countries, please visit the Hong Kong Travel Health Service website at http://www.travelhealth.gov.hk/eindex.html.
General Measures on Preventing Mosquito-borne Diseases
1. Wear loose, light-coloured, long-sleeved tops and trousers, and use DEET-containing insect repellent on exposed parts of the body and clothing.
2. Take additional preventive measures when engaging in outdoor activities:
- Avoid using fragrant cosmetics or skin care products
- Re-apply insect repellents according to instructions
3. Special notes when travelling abroad:
- If going to affected areas or countries, arrange a consultation with doctor at least 6 weeks before the trip, and have extra preventive measures to avoid mosquito bite
- During the trip, if travelling in endemic rural areas, carry a portable bed net and apply permethrin (an insecticide) on it. Permethrin should NOT be applied to skin. Seek medical attention promptly if feeling unwell
- Travellers if feeling unwell e.g. run a fever, should seek medical advice promptly, and provide travel details to doctor
Help prevent mosquito proliferation
1. Prevent accumulation of stagnant water
- Change the water in vases once a week
- Clear the water in the saucers under potted plants every week
- Cover water containers tightly
- Ensure air-conditioner drip trays are free of stagnant water
- Put all used cans and bottles into covered dustbins
2. Control vectors and reservoir of the diseases
- Store food and dispose of garbage properly
Pregnant women and children of 6 months or older can use DEET-containing insect repellent. For details about the use of insect repellents and the key points to be observed, please refer to'Tips for using insect repellents'.
For more information about control and prevention of mosquito breeding, please visit the website of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) at http://www.fehd.gov.hk/english/safefood/handbook_prev_mos_breeding.html
Related link: World Health Day 2014