Mosquito virus warning as families call for greater awareness

Dylan Meyer and his mother Debra Meyer-SaundersEncephalitis causes brain inflammation and has a high mortality rate of up to 40 per cent despite improvements in treatments, according to the Encephalitis Society. More research is being undertaken to explore Murray Valley Encephalitis. Here, several stories of persons seriously infected from mosquito-borne Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) and Murray Valley encephalitis virus, and autoimmune encephalitis.

Dylan Meyer admits he went a little overboard with his Christmas shopping this year.

Just a few months ago, he didn’t think he’d be alive to enjoy the day.

“Back in March, I was actually planning my 21-year-old’s funeral in my head,” his mother Debra Meyer-Saunders said in front of a joyfully decorated Christmas tree.


Dylan Meyer
Dylan has bought extra gifts for this year’s Christmas to thank everyone for their support.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Erin Somerville)

Dylan had always thought of himself as a typical young Albury man: training to become a diesel mechanic, hanging with friends, and finding peace through fishing the nearby Murray River.

But a camping trip in March at Rutherglen, in northern Victoria, has shaken his world after he was bitten by mosquitoes.

He soon began to feel ill, started to vomit uncontrollably and passed out at work.


Dylan Meyer
Dylan was on life support for four months. (Supplied: Meyer family)

He was diagnosed with mosquito-borne Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) and Murray Valley encephalitis virus, and autoimmune encephalitis.

He spent more than four months on life support.

“I was aware of the virus. I just didn’t think anything of it. I thought it was just another mosquito bite,” Dylan said.


Dylan Meyer having a meal
Dylan enjoys his first meal since becoming sick. (Supplied: Meyer family)

Encephalitis causes brain inflammation and has a high mortality rate of up to 40 per cent despite improvements in treatments, according to the Encephalitis Society.

Long road to recovery

Dylan was treated in hospitals in Albury and Melbourne and was finally discharged in September.


Dylan Meyer leaves hospital
Dylan finally leaves hospital in Albury. (Supplied: Meyer family)

It was a particularly challenging time as the severity of the illness began to sink in.

“Bringing him home was difficult,” Ms Meyer-Saunders said.

“I know most people think it would be easy, but it was difficult because we brought Dylan home with a wheelchair, a walker, a shower chair, a toilet chair and a normal chair.


Debra Meyer-Saunders
Debra Meyer-Saunders is thankful her son made it to his 22nd birthday. (ABC Goulburn Murray: Erin Somerville)

“You don’t realise all this equipment you need.

“You don’t realise, ‘oh he can’t do anything himself’.”

Dylan is now rebuilding his memory, balance, fine motor skills and speech, and needs constant support.


Dylan Meyer
Dylan finds it tough to look back on photos of when he was on life support. (ABC Goulburn Murray: Erin Somerville)

“It’s disheartening because I’ve gone from a life where I was doing everything by myself,” he said.

His goal for 2024 is to get back to his beloved diesel mechanic work. He is slowly building his way up by spending a few hours a week at work.

He also went fishing a few weeks ago for the first time since he was infected.


mother and son hold hands
Dylan holds his mother’s hand as he reflects on his illness. (ABC Goulburn Murray: Erin Somerville)

Dylan is determined, and chalks his survival up to that.

He also doesn’t want other lives pulled apart by the same illness.

“I want to get everyone to know that this virus can and will kill you, get the vaccine and cover up,” he said.

“I wasn’t lucky, I was determined.

“I was very determined to beat this thing.”

More campaigning and knowledge

Corowa resident Jacquelene Monk knows not all battles with mosquito-borne viruses end as well.


Jacquelene Monk
Jacquelene Monk lost the “love of her life” to a mosquito-borne virus. (ABC Goulburn Murray: Erin Somerville)

Her husband, David Kiefel, died last year after he contracted Japanese encephalitis virus.

He was an active member of the community.

Mr Kiefel’s death triggered many residents to get vaccinated against JEV, but Ms Monk wants much more awareness campaigning.


David Kiefel
David Kiefel was an active part of the Corowa community. (Supplied: Jacquelene Monk)

“Obviously, time moves on and I think it’s one of these things that needs to be done each season, every year particularly with the influx of visitors,” she said.

Ms Monk said the battle against the newly emerged JEV was a lonely one, but she hoped her husband’s death wasn’t in vain.

“David was so giving,” she said.


David Kiefel in ICU
David Kiefel in ICU with Japanese encephalitis virus. (Supplied: Jacquelene Monk)

“He knew that he probably wouldn’t survive.

“He was a quadriplegic who couldn’t breathe on his own.”

But he consented to doctors studying him to understand how the virus progressed.


Jacquelene Monk with her husband, David Kiefel,
Jacquelene Monk with her husband, David Kiefel, as he battled the virus. (Supplied: Jacquelene Monk)

Ms Monk said there were some findings on blood pressure management and the impacts of the virus on movement and memory.

“They did a number of studies on David and I think it’s really important where people can if they get this disease that they allow the medical community to learn.”

Public study launched

The Ovens Murray Public Health Unit has launched a new study to learn more about the spread of Murray Valley encephalitis virus.

It was detected in humans and mosquitoes in Victoria earlier this year for the first time since 1974, but researchers are still unsure why.


Mick Enright
Mick Enright speaks about the new study into Murray Valley encephalitis virus. (ABC Goulburn Murray: Erin Somerville)

The health unit’s operations director Mick Enright said the study would test the blood of volunteers in Wodonga, Wangaratta and Indigo shires to see how many people had had past infections.

“We don’t have any good underlying data to know how prevalent this condition is in our population, so this will help us understand the risk in our area and then help us with our prevention activities,” he said.

With mosquito numbers high this summer, CSIRO senior research scientist Prasad Paradkar said more was needed to better understand these viruses in the wake of the recent outbreaks.

“Surveillance is always tricky because Australia is a vast country. There is only so many places you can look for a virus, so there’s always the need to scale it up more and more and especially when there is the risk for these diseases now

Mosquito bite prevention:

  • Cover up outside with loose, long-sleeved and light-coloured clothing
  • Use mosquito repellents that contain picaridin, DEET or oil of lemon eucalyptus
  • Limit outdoor activity if lots of mosquitoes are about if possible
  • Mosquito repellent wristbands and patches are not recommended



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