WHAT CAUSES IT?
The first case of JE was documented in 1871 in Japan. The disease is caused by a flavivirus, which is closely related to the dengue, yellow fever and West Nile viruses. It was transmitted to humans via Culex mosquitoes in Asia. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that JE is the main cause of viral encephalitis in many countries in Asia – near to home and popular destinations we travel to – with nearly 68,000 clinical cases ever year.1
The virus lives in host animals such as pigs and wading birds. Culex mosquitoes feed on the blood of these animals and then transfer the virus to humans through bites. Although Culex mosquitoes’ favourite breeding grounds are flooded rice fields and marshes, these insects have also been found in urban environments.
INCIDENCES OF JE HERE
Occurrences of JE used to be regular in Singapore, but incidences of the disease have decreased ever since pig farming was phased out in 1992, with only six cases reported between 1991 and 2005. Still, findings suggest that the virus remains active on our island.2
The disease also occurs in neighbouring countries where pig farming is prevalent and, as such, it is important not to take the threat for granted.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
The JE virus causes either no symptoms or mild, short-lived symptoms, which are often mistaken for those of the flu. Typically, these symptoms include fever, headache, diarrhoea and muscle pain.
In extreme cases, the infection can spread to the brain, causing symptoms of encephalitis such as seizures, stiff neck, muscle weakness, uncontrollable shaking of body parts, the inability to speak, paralysis, and changes in mental state that can range from mild confusion to coma. Death may result in very severe cases. For those who survive, recovery tends to be slow.3 According to WHO, there is no specific cure for JE. Treatment is focused on relieving severe clinical signs and supporting the patient to overcome the infection.3 The good news is that you can protect your family with the JE vaccine. There are different vaccines available for infants, children and adults. For more details, speak to your paediatrician or health-care provider.