Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) is a rare but potentially serious infection in humans that is transmitted by a bite from an infected mosquito.
Infection in humans is most commonly asymptomatic, however in less than 1% of infections, it can result in severe disease called encephalitis that requires hospitalisation and can result in serious long-term outcomes.
What you need to know in the ACT
In early 2022, JEV was detected for the first time in commercial pig farms and in humans in New South Wales, northern Victoria, South Australia and Queensland - indicating the virus is likely circulating in the mosquito population where it hasn’t been found before.
There have been no confirmed human cases of JE in the ACT at this time, however residents of Canberra and surrounding areas should take action to avoid mosquito bites.
We are monitoring the situation closely and will provide updates on the latest health advice via our Public Health Alerts page and our social media channels:
Less than 1% of people infected with JEV will experience symptoms. If symptoms do develop, it is usually 5 to 15 days after a bite from an infected mosquito
Some infected people experience an illness with fever and headache.
People with severe infection (encephalitis) may experience neck stiffness, confusion, disorientation, tremors, coma or seizures.
If you experience these symptoms, you should seek urgent medical assistance.
How JEV spreads
Infection in humans occurs following a bite from an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes can become infected after biting an infected pig or waterbird. Mosquitoes cannot become infected after biting infected humans.
JEV cannot be passed from person to person.
Humans cannot become infected by eating meat from an infected animal.
Actions to protect yourself against mosquito bites include:
Covering up as much as possible with loose-fitting light-coloured clothing and covered footwear when outside.
Using an effective insect repellent on exposed skin and reapply within a few hours. The best mosquito repellents contain Diethyl Toluamide (DEET), Picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
Using insecticide sprays, vapour dispensing units (indoors) and mosquito coils (outdoors) to clear rooms or repel mosquitoes from an area.
Covering all windows, doors, vents and other entrances with insect screens.
Removing any water-holding containers outside the house where mosquitoes could breed.
Ensuring accommodation, including tents, are properly fitted with mosquito nettings or screens.
Safe and effective vaccines for Japanese encephalitis are available in Australia for people aged two months and over. These vaccines are not on the National Immunisation Program schedule – the list of vaccines that are provided free of charge for children and adults in Australia. Nationally, JEV vaccines are being prioritised for those currently at highest risk of JEV.
ACT Health has sent a letter to eligible people (through their workplaces) advising how to book in for a JEV vaccination. If you believe you are eligible for a JEV vaccination based on the current national priority groups, and have not received a letter through your workplace, you can either contact the ACT Health Immunisation Unit for further information on 02 5124 9800 or discuss with your General Practitioner.
A letter has been sent to ACT General Practitioners (GPs) in December 2022 outlining the eligibility criteria and process for ordering a JEV vaccine and is available here.
The JEV vaccine order form for GPs is available here.
JEV infection is usually diagnosed by measuring levels of antibodies to JEV in samples of blood or spinal fluid. If you have been infected, you do not put others at risk, as this disease cannot be passed from person to person.
If you have symptoms consistent with JEV please seek medical treatment.
There is no specific treatment available for JEV. The best way to avoid infection is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.
Information for Health professionals
JEV in humans is a notifiable disease in the ACT and requires immediate telephone notification on diagnosis or based on reasonable clinical suspicion.
Clinicians should consider a diagnosis of JEV infection in patients presenting with unexplained symptoms and signs consistent with encephalitis – they should be referred to hospital for further investigation and management.