Legislative Council: Tuesday, November 01, 2022


Japanese Encephalitis

The Hon. J.E. HANSON (15:18): My question is to the Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development. Will the minister update the chamber on the vaccine for the Japanese encephalitis virus?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (15:18): I thank the member for this important question. Thousands of South Australians living and working in areas with greater risk of Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) have had increased access to a free vaccine since mid-October under an expansion of the current program to better protect regional communities.

The expanded vaccine rollout targets people who live or work in a postcode within five kilometres of the Murray River, Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert areas ahead of the mosquito season, which starts in the summer months. To be eligible, residents must be aged at least two months and spend at least four hours outdoors on most days. The same four-hour outdoors requirement also applies to workers.

More than 900 people in selected high-risk groups, including piggery workers, were vaccinated earlier this year through the first phase of the program. A total of 23,000 vaccines have been made available by the commonwealth and state governments as part of the second phase of the program. The vaccines initially are being distributed across eight SA Health pop-up clinics and seven GPs, with more sites to follow, including pharmacies, over the coming weeks, with the Malinauskas government committing $1.84 million towards this stage of the rollout. A full list of vaccination sites can be found on the SA Health website at sahealth.sa.gov.au/jevvaccine.

Of the nine confirmed cases of Japanese encephalitis in South Australia this year, the majority had visited the Murray River during their exposure period, and sadly there have been two deaths. A third consecutive La Niña weather event has resulted in conditions that present increased risks of mosquito-borne disease, including Japanese encephalitis for the 2022-23 season.

In response, SA Health's Fight the Bite Campaign, promoting the importance of personal protection and simple steps the public can take, is also being boosted. This coincides with other expanded campaigns to prevent exposure to the disease through mosquito surveillance and control, including the South Australian Arbovirus Surveillance Program, which usually runs from September to April but will now run until late winter next year. Also, we have the Sentinel Chicken Surveillance Program, which includes four additional sites, more frequent testing and the introduction of JEV testing of all sentinel flocks. Councils are being given extra training, equipment and support.

Japanese encephalitis causes a rare but potentially serious infection in humans that is transmitted through bites from infected Culex mosquitoes, which are commonly found in South Australia. Most people do not experience any illness. However, a small proportion will develop encephalitis, which can be fatal or cause long-term neurological damage. Symptoms include confusion, headaches, neck stiffness, tremors, drowsiness and seizures. More information on how to Fight the Bite can be found at sahealth.sa.gov.au/fightthebite.

I encourage eligible residents and workers, especially those around the Murray River, to take advantage of this free vaccine to help keep themselves safe. This virus can be deadly and we can all play a part in helping stop its spread. These vaccinations are important for our agriculture industry, people working outdoors and those in our regional communities so they can stay protected.

The PRESIDENT: Supplementary question, the Hon. Ms Franks.