Fight the Bite: Winthrop resident spearheading campaign to protect against mosquite-borne diseases

Ronneit Orlando. Picture: Jon Hewson
Ronneit Orlando. Picture: Jon Hewson

WINTHROP resident Ronneit Orlando is spearheading a State Government campaign encouraging West Australians to protect themselves from mosquito-borne diseases.

Ms Orlando is a passionate advocate for the Fight the Bite campaign having spent more than 10 years battling the debilitating symptoms of Ross River virus.

She contracted the disease from a mosquito bite in Bunbury in the mid-1990s and spent 18 months feeling like she had “been hit by a truck” before finally being diagnosed.

“Within a week or two I started developing symptoms; I had a rash and a splitting headache and was bed-ridden for several weeks,” she said.

“I thought it was meningitis to start with but doctors had no idea what the cause was.

“Ross River virus can be difficult to diagnose because everyone has different symptoms and some people suffer more than others.”

Ms Orlando said the disease – which has no real cure – took an immense toll on her personal life and that was partly what had motivated her to try to raise awareness about the potential dangers of mosquito bites.

“The Health Department sometimes gives my phone number out to people that have just found out they have Ross River virus,” she said.

“People usually only ring once and they just need reassurance that they’re not going crazy and that there is light at the end of the tunnel because the depression that often comes with the lethargy and chronic fatigue can be the hardest to deal with.”

Health Minister John Day said there were fears that last year’s below average mosquito numbers and the unseasonably cool spring had lulled people into a false sense of security.

“Recent rains, forecast rapidly rising temperatures and higher than usual tidal activity creates a ‘perfect storm’ of ideal breeding conditions,” he said.

“In previous bad years, more than 1000 people have been infected in Western Australia with mosquito-borne diseases, for which there are no vaccines or cures.

“Viruses such as Ross River and Barmah Forest can be physically, mentally and financially debilitating.”

Mosquito-borne diseases already active in south-west region

The Department of Health has confirmed detections of Ross River virus (RRV) and Barmah Forest virus (BFV) in mosquitoes in the Perth metropolitan area.

Managing scientist of environmental health hazards Michael Lindsay said mosquito-borne diseases were clearly active in the south-west region, in line with the Department’s predictions for an increased risk this season.

“Mosquito management is being undertaken by local government authorities in collaboration with the Department of Health in areas with a recognised risk,” he said.

“However, it is not realistic to rely on mosquito management programs alone to control mosquitoes; individuals living in or travelling to the region also need to take their own precautions to avoid mosquito bites.”

Symptoms of RRV and BFV include painful or swollen joints, sore muscles, skin rashes, fever, fatigue and headaches.

Symptoms can last for weeks or months and the only way to diagnose the viruses is by having a specific blood test.

There is no vaccine or specific treatment for RRV or BFV.

Key Fight the Bite messages

– Cover up by wearing long, loose-fitting clothing

– Use a personal insect repellent containing diethyltoluamide or picaridin

– Clean up around the home to remove stagnant water that mosquitoes can breed in