Aussie tourist hotspot Bali has been hit with an outbreak of a dangerous, mosquito-borne brain disease called Japanese encephalitis. Local health authorities have warned Australian tourists to be careful with their travel plans as more cases of the disease are reported. Here's what you need to know if you're in Bali, know people who are or are planning a trip.
Japanese encephalitis is considered endemic to all of Indonesia, but it's considered most concerning in Bali at the moment. There have even been cases of Australian travellers returning home from Bali holidays with infections of the deadly disease.
The reason for such widespread concern is that Japanese encephalitis has a high mortality rate, and a risk of permanent brain damage even for those who do recover. In patients with severe cases, the mortality rate is around 20 per cent, but many of those infected present with no symptoms.
When symptoms do appear, they include fever, headache, disorientation, neck pain, and even tremors and convulsion. In extreme cases it can cause brain damage, blindness and movement disorders.
The disease is carried by mosquitoes, and is most often transmitted human-to-human but can also be passed from birds, bats, cows and pigs - so rural areas are at particularly high risk of the disease.
If you’re heading to Bali and you’ve seen reports about Japanese Encephalitis, check with your doctor about vaccinations and read our travel advice before you go. https://t.co/T5iB8xk5jY
— Smartraveller (@Smartraveller) November 9, 2018
What To Do If You're Visiting Bali
If you're visiting Bali soon, or planning to, it's worth taking a bit of extra precaution to protect yourself from the threat of Japanese encephalitis. Don't freak out too much, though. While this warning has been issued for travellers by Indonesia's health ministry, no warnings have been issued by Australia's various health and travel organisations beyond the basics.
NSW Health says: "for most travellers the risk of acquiring JE is very low. People at the greatest risk of becoming infected are those who are staying more than a month in rural areas in countries where the disease is endemic."
The best thing you can do to avoid Japanese encephalitis is to avoid mosquito bites. Make sure you're sleeping in air-conditioned, enclosed rooms, or rooms with a mosquito net to protect you from bites. Cover up to minimise bites and apply insect repellent where necessary.
There is a vaccination available for Japanese encephalitis, mainly recommended if you're planning on staying for more than a month in rural areas, as mentioned above. You can likely arrange one if you're an anxious traveller too, of course. Unlike other travel vaccinations, the Japanese encephalitis vaccine requires only a single shot.
To talk about getting vaccinated, get in contact with your GP or travel medicine clinic.