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Free vaccines handed out in western NSW as mosquito-borne illness threat looms
Health officials are sounding the alarm on mosquito-borne illnesses as stagnant pools of water create ideal breeding grounds throughout Western NSW.
NSW Health is distributing free vaccines in Western NSW for Japanese encephalitis, a rare but serious disease spread by mosquito bites.
Western NSW Local Health District's Priscilla Stanley says Japanese encephalitis can cause fever, headaches, neurological illness, and in extreme cases even death.
"The reason we worry is the outcome after being bitten by a mosquito with Japanese encephalitis can be incredibly serious," Ms Stanley said.
"There's quite a large number of people who will be eligible for the free vaccine, and we're really encouraging people not to delay; to ring their GP and make an appointment."
Ms Stanley says health officials are particularly keen to get vaccines to those who spend long hours outside or who are regularly exposed to stagnant water following the floods.
Those who fit the description can call their local GP, who will either be able to order them in or administer them on the spot if stocks are available.
Ms Stanley said they were seeing large quantities of mosquitoes, as well as anecdotal reports of "incredibly large" and particularly "nasty" specimens.
Health officials are recommending Western NSW locals wear long sleeves, spray themselves with insect repellent before going outside, and cover windows with fly screen protectors.
Where possible, locals are advised to remove stagnant pools of water which can linger in plant pots, gutters, or backyards.
Ms Priscilla said there were also concerns for other mosquito-borne illnesses such as Ross River virus and Barmah Forest virus.
Veterinarian Duncan McGinness says Dubbo has seen a resurgence of mosquito-borne canine heartworm disease for the first time since the 90s.
Dr McGinness warned the mosquito outbreak meant animals were at a higher risk of a range of illnesses.
Dubbo MP Dugald Saunders says the mosquito outbreak is "enormous" and is urging locals to get vaccinated before conditions worsen.
"We know there's been angst around the amount of mosquito we have currently and as the weather becomes warmer it will increase — there's no doubt about that," he said.
"We want to do everything we can to prepare, and the best way to prepare is to get vaccines in as many arms as we can for those people at highest risk."
Around 50,000 Japanese encephalitis vaccines are in stock, with NSW Health procuring more on a needs basis.
There are plans to set up pop-up vaccination clinics around Western NSW later into the season.
The free vaccines are available in 39 local government areas, and more information can be found on the NSW Health website.
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