A NSW man has become the fifth Australian to die from the mosquito-borne virus, after it left him almost paralysed in a tragic three-month fight.
Corowa man David Kiefel has become the fifth person in Australia to die of Japanese encephalitis (JE).
The 61-year-old died at Albury Base Hospital on May 20 after being diagnosed with the virus in early March, NSW Health has confirmed.
According to social media posts made by his wife Jacquelene Monk, the retired banker and auditor contracted a severe form of the virus and was placed on life support in March. Later he regained consciousness but was paralysed and only able to communicate through facial expressions, mouthed words and the aid of a lip reading interpreter.
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Mr Kiefel’s illness may have been linked to the outbreak of JE, which was confirmed at 14 piggeries across NSW, South Australia, Queensland and Victoria.
During her husband’s illness, Ms Monk – who said she visited the hospital six days a week – frequently warned the community to protect themselves and their families from mosquito bites.
“We now know the local mozzies are carrying Japanese encephalitis. Don’t risk the severe illness and long-term effects it can produce,” she wrote in a post dated March 4.
David Kiefel remembered by Corowa community
Since Mr Kiefel’s death, local businesses have paid tribute to the “kind” and active member of the community.
The Corowa Community Garden said the NSW man was a passionate gardener, writing: “The Corowa Community Garden group celebrate the life of our dear friend David Kiefel.
“David was a founding member of the garden. He generously shared his vast gardening knowledge and his kindness and friendship will be greatly missed.
“Our sincere condolences to Jacqui and all the family.”
Members of the Corowa-Rutherglen Football Netball Club also said they were “deeply saddened” by the passing of their former treasurer and longtime member.
“[David was] a long-time supporter of our club who did two terms as treasurer. Condolences to Jacqui and the Kiefel family,” they wrote.
What is Japanese encephalitis (JE)?
Spread by mosquitoes, JE can result in severe neurological illness with headache, convulsions and reduced consciousness in some cases. NSW Health states that people who work in environments which expose them to mosquitoes or pigs may be more at risk, for example workers in piggeries, animal transport, vet clinics, laboratory workers or people who engage in animal and mosquito trapping for surveillance.
Although a vaccine in available, there is no specific treatment for the virus. Therefore, the health body stressed the importance of prevention, and said it’s “important to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes”.
It also recommend the use of fly screens, mosquito coils, insect repellent, wearing long sleeves and pants to reduce skin exposure and reducing water holding containers to prevent breeding.
It’s also advised to avoid going outdoors during peak mosquito times, like dawn and dusk, especially around wetland and bushland areas.
As of May 23, there have been 13 confirmed cases of the virus, including eight in the Murrumbidgee Local Health District (which includes Corowa), two in the Far West LHD and one in the Southern NSW, Western NSW and Nepean Blue Mountains LHD.