Under attack


MOZZZZZZZQUITOES are here and they may have brought friends. Very unwelcome friends.

Ross River fever and Barmah Forest virus are two very nasty viruses which hitchhike on female mosquitoes, making two very good reasons to avoid a love-bite from these little ladies.

One person who knows first hand what Barmah Forest virus feels like is Upper Orara dairy farmer Brian Kellett, who has had the disease three times.

Mr Kellett spent two weeks in hospital, three months recuperating and took a year to recover after his first bout of Barmah Forest virus.

He said at the time he and a neighbour were fencing along a rainforested section of their joint boundary.

Large grey mosquitoes were biting so savagely the cattle would not stay in the area to feed.

"I got a terrible headache, I used to sweat like a pig and shiver ? it's a terrible bloody thing to get," Mr Kellett said.

"I couldn't drink or eat in the finish, I couldn't use my right arm and all my joints were aching ? they had to put me in a wheelchair to take me to hospital."

His neighbour also contracted the virus, but got a much lighter dose, which Mr Kellett thinks may have been due to the neighbour being on antibiotics at the time.

It took 18 months before doctors identified the virus, but since that first bout nine years ago, Mr Kellett has had Barmah Forest virus twice more, most recently last April, each time in autumn.

He says one attack of the virus made him so tired he fell asleep driving his tractor and almost went through a fence.

The senior environmental health officer with the Public Health unit of the North Coast Area Health Service (NCAHS), Kerryn Allen, said of more than 400 mosquito species in Australia, more than 30 could carry viruses "and most of those live in our region".

Ms Allen said there were 170 cases of Barmah Forest virus and 150 cases of Ross River virus in the Mid North Coast area in 2004 and there could have been more which were misdiagnosed or not reported.

She said coastal NSW was a paradise for mosquitoes as well as people and avoiding being bitten was the only way to guarantee immunity from the viruses, which were not fatal but extremely unpleasant.

She said people were more likely to catch the mosquito-borne viruses in late summer or autumn.

Researchers do not know exactly why some people are more attractive to mosquitoes than others.

But a report last week said people who had body hair on their arms and legs, who were clean, who weighed less and exercised less were less likely to be 'mosquito magnets' while tidy, uncluttered houses gave the insects fewer hiding places.

James Cook University entomologist James Williams told the Sydney Morning Herald that mosquitoes used carbon dioxide and chemicals and bacteria from the skin and breath to find their host.

So a larger person, someone with a higher metabolic rate, or active children all could attract mosquitos.

Paul Corben, the North Coast Area Health Service director of public health, says the hot weather and recent rains means an explosion in mosquito numbers is on the way.

It only takes two to three weeks to breed large numbers of mosquitos and in many areas residents are already defending themselves against the whining hordes.

There are no specific vaccines for Barmah Forest or Ross River viruses so prevention of bites is the best strategy.

The summer and autumn months are peak times for infection.

Ross River fever is a flu-like virus spread by certain types of female mosquitoes. It is not spread directly from person to person and can be diagnosed with a blood test.

Barmah Forest virus is related to Ross River virus and both have similar symptoms. Native animals such as kangaroos and wallabies are thought to be the main animals involved in the Barmah Forest cycle of infection.

Mozzies who feed on the blood of an infected animal or person may become infected with the virus then pass it on to other animals or people when the mosquito bites again.

The symptoms include fever, chills, headache and aches and pains in the muscles and joints. Some joints can become swollen and joint stiffness may be particularly noticeable in the morning.

The illness can last from a few weeks to more than a year in rare cases.

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