By Michael Giles

Bass MP has contacted the Department of Health  but only succeeded in having them issue a general warning about mosquito-borne illneses.

WEEKS of pleas from the local victims of Ross River, a campaign by the local press and now the intervention of local MP Jordan Crugnale has apparently fallen on deaf ears in Lonsdale Street.

The best the Department of Health and Human Services could do, after direct questions from Ms Crugnale was to issue a general advice about mosquito-borne viruses “especially in coastal areas”.

Never mind that upwards of 20 people on Phillip Island and in the Westernport area have now contracted Ross River.

The latest, David Withers, a landowner on French Island, said this week that a timely warning that Ross River was active in the area might have prompted him to take more precautions.

“If they’d put up some posters on the ferry or issued an advice, I’m sure I would have used more Aerogard and worn long sleeves.”

Following Ms Crugnale’s request for action, a Department of Health spokesperson said the following:

“Ross River virus occurs across most parts of Australia and Victoria.

“Residents and visitors in all areas of the State should be aware of the potential of mosquito-borne illness and the need to avoid being bitten.

“People should always take personal measures to avoid mosquito bites, particularly in coastal regions which are conducive to the breeding of mosquitoes.

“Numbers of mosquitoes naturally fluctuate based on the local environment.”

The department also offered some background notes:

“There are simple steps we can all take to protect against mosquito-borne diseases such as wearing long, loose fitting clothes, using repellents containing picaridin or DEET on exposed skin and trying to limit outdoor activities if lots of mosquitoes are around.

“Mosquitoes can become infected with Ross River virus by biting certain animals, such as kangaroos and wallabies. These animals are not sick, but can carry the infection in their blood for long periods of time. People who are then bitten by these infected mosquitoes can become sick, but they do not pose a risk to others.

“A range of information relating to protecting against mosquito bites is available on the Beat the Bite campaign page on the Better Health Channel.

For further information on Ross River Virus, visit: https://www2.health.vic.gov.au/about/news-and-events/healthalerts/warning-mosquitoes-ross-river-virus-2020. For ways to beat the bite, visit https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/campaigns/beat-the-bite.

Ms Crugnale offered her support for the campaign:

“If your paper can also run a section on the ‘Beat the Bite’ campaign, that would be fantastic as we all have a responsibility to look after ourselves and avoid getting bitten. BCH have been doing some promotion through their social channels too.” Ms Crugnale said.

French Island virus alert

The latest person to contract Ross River virus locally was David Withers, a part-time resident of French Island.

He was hit by the illness at Christmas time and he’s still getting over it.

“We own a small farm on French Island. It’s just an hour away from Melbourne for us so particularly through the lockdown period, March to October, we spent a lot of time here,” said David Withers this week.

“We also spent a few weeks there before Christmas and that’s when I contracted the disease, I think.

“We love it but coming across to the Island is no holiday. We’re busy with jobs and up until Christmas, it had been quite wet, with a lot of stagnant water lying around. Plenty of places for mosquitoes to hide.

“Plus, we live pretty close to Mosquito Creek Road (south side of French Island), so that should give you a good indication.”

David and his family went back to Melbourne for the Christmas festivities, but it was just prior to Christmas that he felt unwell enough to go to hospital.

“I started out feeling achy and then my hands and feet started swelling. I haven’t got arthritis, but I also started to feel very sore in the joints like I expect arthritis feels like.

“I was waking up in the night and it got painful enough on Christmas Eve that I went to hospital.”

David has since had a series of tests, neurological, ECGs etc but finally two weeks ago a blood test confirmed Ross River.

“I’m still feeling the effects of it, especially walking when I first get up in the morning but I can sleep now and I feel like I’m coming through it.”

David was pleased to see this week advice from Linda Bowden, Secretary of the French Island Community Association, warning locals to take precautions, but noted it would have been good to see something from health authorities earlier than this.

“This is to advise that FICA have become aware of two residents who have confirmed they have contracted Ross River Virus.

“The link below provides details about the virus and what to do if you think you may have symptoms:

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/ross-river-virus-disease

“This information is being provided so that residents can be more vigilant around mosquitoes and get tested if you believe you may have the symptoms.”

Advice to others but not us

The following advice was issued on January 20, 2021 by DHHS but there’s still been no update including Phillip Island and Westernport:

Residents and visitors in the Surf Coast, Geelong and Bellarine Peninsula areas of Victoria are being warned to protect themselves against mosquito-borne diseases such as Ross River virus and Barmah Forest virus.

* These viruses can cause symptoms including joint pain and stiffness, headache, fever, rash and fatigue.

* The best protection from these diseases is to avoid mosquito bites – protective measures include regularly using mosquito repellent containing picaridin or DEET on all exposed skin, wearing long, loose fitting clothing when outside, and ensuring accommodation, including tents, are properly fitted with mosquito nettings or screens.

For those who may be travelling to the New South Wales south coast (after lockdown), an advice has also been issued by the Southern New South Wales Local Health District (SNSWLHD) alerting locals and visitors to several reported cases of Ross River Fever and Barmah Forest Virus infection in the area.