First Japanese encephalitis death reported as it spreads in Taiwan

First death from Japanese encephalitis reported in Taiwan in 2019 as disease spreads

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(By Wikimedia Commons)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Tuesday (June 18) announced that there have been three new reported cases of Japanese encephalitis in Taiwan, including one death, the first from the disease this year, as it spreads across the nation.

Thus far this year, there have been seven cases of Japanese encephalitis reported, of which four were in Kaohsiung, possibly due to the increase in temperatures caused by El Nino. CDC Epidemic Intelligence Center Deputy Director Guo Hung-wei (郭宏偉) on Tuesday afternoon said that three new cases include a man in his 60s in Kaohsiung's Zuoying District, a man in his 50s in Pingtung County's Nanzhou Township, and a man in his 40s in Chiayi County's Liuijiao Township, reported CNA.

The three men had not traveled abroad but lived near rice paddies, ponds, pig farms, large drainage ditches, or fowl houses. The first death from Japanese encephalitis in Taiwan this year was a woman in her 50s from Kaohsiung, according to the CDC. She had been admitted to an intensive care unit on May 28, but her condition deteriorated and she succumbed to the disease.

CDC physician Lin Yung-ching (林詠青) says that Japanese encephalitis is a viral infection that is primarily transmitted by three types of mosquitoes in Taiwan, including Culex tritaeniorhynchus, Culex annulus and Culex fuscocephala, reported CNA. Lin said that patients often to not present any obvious symptoms, but those that do will experience headaches, fever, aseptic meningitis, general malaise, altered level of consciousness, disorientation, brain damage, paralysis, and even coma or death.

Lin said that children and the elderly are particularly at high risk and the Japanese encephalitis vaccine is the most effective method of prevention. The CDC reminds parents who have children over 15 months of age to have them vaccinated against the disease at local clinics or hospitals.

Lin says that the disease peaks from June to July every year in Taiwan. He said that the vector mosquitoes live in rice paddies, ponds, and irrigation ditches.

He said that their peak feeding hours are at dawn and dusk. Lin suggested that people avoid going to high-risk areas during those peak feeding hours.

If one must venture into mosquito-infested areas at peak hours, Lin recommends that people wear light-colored, long-sleeve shirts and pants, and apply government approved mosquito repellents which contain DEET or Picaridin.

CDC Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) said that Taiwan has been affected by the El Nino phenomenon in the Pacific for several months in a row, reported CNA. From January to April of this year, the temperatures in Kaohsiung were 1 to 3 degrees higher than the 30-year average.

Higher temperatures combined with an influx of plum rains since May has led to an explosion in the mosquito population, according to Chuang.