New risk to shooters, hunters and outdoors people

Bob Boland

Shooters, hunters, fishers and people who enjoy the great outdoors, particularly those who venture into the bush, now have a new risk to contend with – Japanese encephalitis. The virus is new to Australia and affects pigs, horses/donkeys and water birds, particularly wading birds.  So far it has been detected in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia with Northern Territory on alert.

While Japanese encephalitis cannot be directly transmitted between mammals (there’s no risk from eating pork) it’s effectively transmitted via mosquitoes. The vast majority of people who contract the virus will experience mild symptoms or none at all, though a small percentage suffer inflammation of the brain which can be fatal and while your chances of that are slight, there’s no point in taking the risk. As such it’s critical in the field, at the range and even at home that we take appropriate precautions.

As the carrier of Japanese encephalitis is mosquitos, lots of the precautions relate to minimising contact with the insects so wherever you go shooting, try to avoid stagnate water where mosquitoes can breed and use insect repellent and mosquito coils in camp or at your shooting base.

Unfortunately the mosquitos which spread Japanese encephalitis are most active at dusk and dawn which are prime hunting times. Additionally, hunters and particularly stalkers actively work to minimise their scent and most insect repellents smell. Furthermore, pigs (feral and domestic), horses/donkeys and water fowl are common across many areas where people hunt, fish and bushwalk and the flooding and generally wet summer many parts of the country have experienced means stagnant water pools have increased, meaning mosquito numbers are unusually high.

Minimising your chances of contracting this virus while hunting and fishing can easily include loose long-sleeved clothes and insect screens on tents while gloves and face nets are good investments. There are also a few insect repellents with low or no odour which may be worth investigating though the Australian Government’s advice is the best repellents include diethyltoluamide (DEET), oil of lemon eucalyptus or picaridin. While there are two vaccines which protect against Japanese encephalitis, as the virus is new to Australia both access and price are problematic at the moment.

Hunters and those who are regularly in areas with feral pigs can also play a crucial role in reporting possible Japanese encephalitis in these populations. Specifically, if you find a litter of dead piglets which have not been killed by a predator or there’s an unusual absence of suckers but adult numbers are stable, contact the National Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.

Precautions against Japanese encephalitis

  • Use insect repellents. Australian Government recommends those with diethyltoluamide (DEET), oil of lemon eucalyptus or picaridin.
  • Wear loose long-sleeved clothing.
  • Eliminate or manage stagnate water to limit mosquitos breeding (regularly empty and refill animal water bowls etc).
  • Install and use fly screens at home, in caravans and tents.
  • Use insecticide sprays, mosquito coils and vapor dispensers.
  • Minimise being in areas with mosquitos particularly just after sunset and at dawn.
  • Consider vaccination.
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