Paralysis Perils of Japanese Encephalitis – 3 Things You Need to Know!

Rice farm Bali risk of Japanese Encephalitis

Japanese Encephalitis – woah woah, that’s a mouthful. Let’s try to say it slower – JAH-PAH-NEEZ_EN-SEF-AH-LIE-TISS.
Mosquitoes have a lot to answer for and Japanese Encephalitis is no exception.

Picture yourself hiking up the side of a mountain in Bali. You take a deep breath and stare in awe at the cascading rice terraces. You’re drenched in sweat because it’s sunny and humid. The last thing on your mind is whether or not you put enough DEET on your exposed skin. Mosquitoes hate DEET. They practically die on contact with DEET because it’s a super effective insecticide. You will want to stop mosquitoes getting anywhere near your blood. Not only because bites are painful and itchy (for days on end)! But mostly because mosquitoes directly inject Japanese Encephalitis into your body. Of course there are other diseases too, but we will get to those in future articles. OH heck, well, if you’re interested

What is Japanese Encephalitis?

Japanese Encephalitis is a virus. Mosquitoes pick up Japanese Encephalitis from other animals like pigs or birds that live in water. Then mosquitoes bite humans and pass it on. Therefore mosquitoes are a vector – they simply carry the disease from one animal to another.

Japanese Encephalitis causes brain swelling that can lead to paralysis, loss of speech and ultimately death. Once you develop the disease, like rabies, there is no cure. You need to try and survive the disease. Therefore, like rabies again, prevention is better than getting the disease and trying your luck at your immune system fighting it (no matter how healthy you think you are).

I once had a lady come into my clinic for a course of vaccines against Japanese Encephalitis. She told me that her friend had done some volunteer work in South East Asia and contracted Japanese Encephalitis whilst there. Devastatingly, her friend became paraplegic. She didn’t want to risk what she saw her friend go through. This disease isn’t as uncommon as you might think. Think like the locals and protect yourself with insect repellent and if you can afford it, genuinely, look into getting the vaccine. Even if you are only travelling for one day, it’s worth protecting your life.

Which mosquitoes carry Japanese Encephalitis?

Can you spot a mosquito carrying Japanese Encephalitis? No? Neither can I. I mean, it’s not like diseases make mosquitoes turn different colours and then we know which ones to avoid. Yeah. Don’t go near the green mosquitoes – they carry Japanese Encephalitis for sure (!) Ok, I will cut the sarcasm and get to the point. (Haha did you get that? Mosquitoes? Point? Ok, just a bit of dry humour to lighten up the mood)

That’s part of the major problem – you can’t see viruses (or anything that requires a microscope, really!) and you sure can’t tell which mosquitoes are carrying them, either. When you hear statistics like “there’s a one in a million chance of contracting Japanese Encephalitis” – you should think twice about its validity. It’s such a ridiculous statement because of the aforementioned observation – you can’t see which mosquitoes are carrying it. Therefore, you should protect yourself regardless. From all mosquitoes. Period. I’ll get to mosquito bite prevention in a future article, don’t you worry 🙂 But here‘s something to whet your appetite.

Where in the world is Japanese Encephalitis?

Japanese Encephalitis Risk Areas Map from https://www.cdc.gov/japaneseencephalitis/maps/index.html

You are at risk of Japanese Encephalitis if you travel to India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, China, Taiwan, North Korea, South Korea, Brunei, Saipan, Guam, Timor-Leste – all of these countries AND Japan. If you are booking a trip to any of these places then consider protecting yourself, your family and your friends from getting bitten by mosquitoes that could be carrying Japanese Encephalitis. As we now know, that could be any mosquito!

The next time you plan to go past a rice field or any stagnant water remember they are breeding grounds for mosquitoes. So protect yourself with insect repellent as a bare minimum! I recommend 50% DEET for anyone over the age of 2 months old, including pregnant and breast feeding women.

I’m impressed you’ve gotten this far! Thank-you for reading and I hope you have a better understanding of Japanese Encephalitis. Travel safe and stay healthy!

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I am a UK GPhC registered Pharmacist in London