Health officials are warning Victorians about a rise in Ross River virus, with the number of infections this summer alone doubling the average number of cases recorded in a typical year.
There have been 448 cases of the mosquito-borne virus across the state since the start of summer to February 25.
Victoria’s Executive Director for Communicable Disease, Dr Bruce Bolam said only about 200 cases were notified to the Department of Health in a typical year.
He said the majority of the cases this summer have been in residents of the Surf Coast, Bellarine and East Gippsland areas.
“When mosquito numbers are high, and the lab detects virus in these mosquitoes, there might be an increased risk of acquiring Ross River virus in the coming days if the weather conditions are favourable,” Dr Bolam said.
“Mosquitoes need stagnant water to breed, but they also prefer mild, calm, and more humid air to fly and bite.”
The virus is passed between mosquitoes and certain animals, such as wallabies and kangaroos. Infected mosquitoes can then bite people, passing the virus onto humans.
Symptoms of Ross River virus include fever, rash, headache, aching muscles and/or joints and fatigue.
Dr Bolam said the onset of symptoms ranged from 2 to 14 days following a bite from an infected mosquito.
There was no evidence that Ross River virus could be spread directly from one person to another.
Dr Bolam said people could take simple steps to avoid bites and protect themselves and their family against mosquito-borne diseases.
“Victorian mosquitoes can be active throughout the day, but the peak period is often around the late afternoon and into the evening as well as around dawn and dusk,” he said.
“Everyone is encouraged to wear long, loose fitting clothes and use repellents containing picaridin or DEET on exposed skin.
“People should ensure that insect screens fitted to doors and windows around the home are in good condition.
“Mosquito numbers can be reduced by getting rid of stagnant water around the home or campsites. Mosquitoes will breed in any receptacle that can hold water, including old tyres, fish ponds, unmaintained swimming pools, unsealed water tanks and pot plant holders.”
Dr Bolam said about 12 local councils had started to work with the Department of Health to monitor and limit mosquito numbers.
He said mosquito traps were set up in the field, and the insects caught were sent to Melbourne for testing.
Ross River cases across Victoria in 2017 with almost 2000 cases reported following widespread springtime flooding in late-2016.
People experiencing symptoms should seek medical attention from their GP.