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Northern Territory residents have been put on alert after local authorities revealed an uptake in positive cases of Japanese encephalitis (JE) among feral pigs.

Forty four pigs have been found with the disease since March this year, in regions such as Victoria Daly, Litchfield, Marrakai-Douglas Daly and Cox-Daly. Pigs with the disease have also been located on the Tiwi Islands.

Japanese encephalitis, most commonly spreads via mosquito bites, has no known treatment, although a vaccine against contracting it exists.

While people may contract the disease asymptomatically, others could be prone to severe sickness and the risk of death.

According to Nina Kurucz, Director of NT Health’s Medical Entomology Unit, people experiencing JE will report a variety of symptoms.

“Symptoms can include fever, headache, neck stiffness, vomiting, confusion, seizures and paralysis,” Ms Kurucz said.

“People who believe they may be infected with the JE virus should seek urgent medical assistance.”

While the NT Government is investigating strategies to manage the spread of JE, Ms Kurucz said there were things people in the Territory could do to avoid contacting the disease.

“The highest risk period for being bitten by an infected mosquito is after sundown within five kilometres of wetlands where feral pigs and water birds potentially infected with JE are present,” Ms Kurucz said.

“The best way to prevent JE and other mosquito-borne viruses is to avoid getting bitten. It is recommended people wear protective light-coloured clothing with long sleeves, long trousers and socks in areas where mosquito bites are likely. People should also use a protective repellent containing DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalypt.”

More information about JE can be found on the Australian Government’s Department of Health webpage, or by contacting the NT Health Medical Entomology team at 08 8922 8510, while the NT Government also has a page on how to identify JE in animals here.