Japanese encephalitis: further detections on Victorian farms - Update no. 2

4 March 2022

Japanese encephalitis virus has now been confirmed as the cause of death of piglets at three separate pig farms in Victoria’s north; one in the Loddon Shire, one in the Campaspe Shire and one in the Wangaratta Shire.

The mosquito-borne zoonotic disease, which was previously considered exotic to Australia, has also been confirmed in piggeries in New South Wales and Queensland.

Agriculture Victoria has established an incident management team with staff on the ground to conduct surveillance activities and to provide information and advice to farmers.

Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Graeme Cooke said that since the announcement of the first positive Japanese encephalitis detection last weekend, a number of Victorian farmers had made contact with Agriculture Victoria and submitted samples for testing.

“Japanese encephalitis virus causes reproductive failure in pigs, primarily through stillbirths and piglets that may show signs of central nervous system disease,” said Dr Cooke.

“Japanese encephalitis can be transmitted to humans through infected mosquitoes and in rare cases can cause encephalitis – a central nervous system disease which can be life threatening so we are working closely with the Department of Health to understand the implications and to communicate to farmers how they can reduce the risk of human exposure.

“Infection is not spread directly from pigs to people and there is no risk to humans from eating pig meat.”

Agriculture Victoria is also encouraging horse owners to take steps to protect their horses as they are also susceptible to Japanese encephalitis if bitten by infected mosquitoes.

In horses, symptoms include lethargy, nervous signs or sometimes hyperexcitability. To date there have been no confirmed cases of Japanese encephalitis in horses in Australia.

“Horse owners are encouraged to reduce mosquito breeding grounds near their horses to reduce the chances of them being bitten,” Dr Cooke said.

“Stabling at night, the use of a light cotton rug and fly mask and application of a safe insect repellent may also help.”

Japanese encephalitis is also a notifiable disease under the Livestock Disease Control Act.

Dr Cooke encouraged animal owners to report any cases of unexplained pig deaths, especially piglets, or unexplained horse illnesses, to the 24-hour Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888, to your local vet or to Agriculture Victoria animal health staff.

For more information visit the Japanese encephalitis virus page.

Media contact: Tess Vallance

Phone: 0437 223 276