Guidance released to protect workers from Japanese encephalitis

Monday, 02 May, 2022

Guidance released to protect workers from Japanese encephalitis

Safe Work Australia has published guidance about Japanese encephalitis for persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs). Japanese encephalitis is caused by the Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) and is spread through mosquito bites. It is more common in areas of increased mosquito activity. Infection in humans is usually asymptomatic, but on rare occasions it can result in severe disease such as encephalitis (infection of the brain) and even death.

JEV spreads when a human is bitten by a mosquito that has previously bitten a pig or a wild waterbird infected with the virus. Japanese encephalitis has been detected in parts of South East Queensland, New South Wales, Northern Territory, Victoria and South Australia. PCBUs located in areas where Japanese encephalitis is a concern are advised to do everything that is reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk of workers and visitors contracting it. Where they are unable to eliminate the risk, they must do everything that is reasonably practicable to minimise it. This can be achieved by implementing control measures such as encouraging or ensuring vaccination, particularly if workers have been identified as part of a group for priority vaccination. PCBUs can also eliminate risks by avoiding or minimising working outside where possible, especially dusk/evening and dawn when mosquitos are most active.

Other control measures include eliminating mosquito breeding sites around the workplace where possible, including removing any debris which may collect standing water. PCBUs can also minimise risks by ensuring workers avoid contact with bodily fluids and tissues of potentially infected animals, or, if this is not possible, by ensuring that workers receive appropriate training in handling potentially contaminated animals and are provided with appropriate personal protective equipment such as masks, eye protection and gloves. Installing insect screens on windows, doors, vents and other entrances, and using insecticide sprays, vapour dispensing units (indoors) and mosquito coils (outdoors) to repel mosquitos from an area, can also help reduce the risk of workers contracting Japanese encephalitis.

PCBUs must also provide information to workers on the risks and symptoms of Japanese encephalitis, and train workers in the use of controls.

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