HEALTH authorities are urging Victorians and some across the border in NSW to protect themselves against mosquito bites because of fears the insects are carrying a life-threatening virus that has not been diagnosed in Victoria for 37 years.
Victoria's Chief Health Officer Dr John Carnie yesterday said ''sentinel chickens'' in the state's north, which are designed to alert health authorities to emerging mosquito-borne diseases, had tested positive for Murray Valley encephalitis virus this week.
It is the second time the virus has been detected in the chickens, which were strategically placed across the state after an outbreak of the rare disease hit Victoria in 1974. No human cases have been noted in Victoria since the 1974 epidemic.
Dr Carnie said chickens were diagnosed with the virus this week in Mildura, Robinvale, Kerang, Barmah and Tooleybuc across the border in New South Wales near Swan Hill.
He said although the virus had not been detected in a human, Victorians living along the Murray River should avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.
He said when outdoors people should wear long, loose-fitting clothes and use insect repellent containing picaridin or DEET and ensure door and window screens were in good repair.
Dr Carnie said people with symptoms of the virus, which include severe headache, high fever, drowsiness, tremor and seizures, should seek urgent medical attention.
While some people with MVE experience no or few symptoms, a small proportion will develop a severe viral brain infection that can kill them or result in permanent brain damage.