Mosquitoes all over the globe carry and spread some of the most debilitating diseases known to man, and do so in a manner that’s often difficult to predict with any kind of certainty.
These vector-borne diseases can cause serious illness or can be fatal. Some of these diseases, such as Japanese encephalitis, referred to as JE, have the potential to cause extensive brain damage, which may result in seizures, paralysis, weakness, neurological or psychiatric problems. JE has no specific treatment if contracted.
“Our DOD beneficiaries tend to be an active population. Our children play outside and many of our adults spend a lot of time outdoors exploring the countryside in areas where the risk for JE is high,” said Col. Margaret Yacovone, director of the Military Vaccine Agency-Vaccine Healthcare Centers Network, or MILVAX-VHCN. “So, it is important to take measures to adequately protect against the disease threat.”
360,000 Americans Stationed in Endemic Areas
Protection from these illnesses starts with personal protective measures, such as insect repellant or limiting outdoor activities at dusk and dawn. However, the best method of protection – a vaccine — is available for JE, and is the most effective preventive measure for the near 360,000 U.S. military and civilian personnel, and their families, working and living in endemic countries in Asia.
The JE vaccine is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for people who stay longer than 30 days in endemic areas of Asia and the western Pacific during mosquito season. It should also be considered for short-term travelers to endemic areas during the JE virus transmission season. The vaccine is licensed by the Food and Drug Administration for use in people aged two months and older.
“We are concerned that some of our beneficiaries are unaware of the threat of JE. While the risk of infection from routine travel may be low, people who relocate to endemic areas are at the same risk as the local residents,” Yacovone said. “All beneficiaries transferring to these areas should be adequately vaccinated against JE according to CDC recommendations.”
A Routine Childhood Vaccine in Some Asian Countries
Navy Capt. Christopher Armstrong, deputy director of Clinical Services for MILVAX-VHCN, stressed that JE, while not seen in the U.S., is already clearly documented as a public health concern and is a routine childhood vaccination in several major Asian countries.
Japanese encephalitis is usually transmitted from June through October. While the risk of developing serious symptoms is low, the fatality rate once symptoms present is 20 to 30 percent. Another 30 to 50 percent of people who survive the disease can develop neurological and psychological problems, which “are unpredictable and cannot be repaired,” Yacovone said.
Up to 50 people per 100,000 who are infected with JE will develop clinical disease, according to the CDC. “The disease, if it develops, will result in crippling disability, if not death,” Armstrong said. “Getting vaccinated is a small price to pay to avoid that.”
Source: Military Vaccine Agency Vaccine Healthcare Centers Network, adapted.