Bali authority denies report on deadly viral infection outbreak

Bali authority denies report on deadly viral infection outbreak
PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

A top Bali health official refuted on Friday a report published by an Australian news outlet claiming that the resort island was experiencing an outbreak of Japanese encephalitis (JE), a deadly viral infection.

“There have been no reported cases of JE in Bali since April,” Bali Health Agency head Ketut Suarjaya said.

“I can assure you that the island is not experiencing any disease outbreak at the moment, let alone a JE outbreak,”

Penned by Nick Pearson and published Thursday morning by 9news.com.au, the piece starts with “authorities in Bali are warning about the outbreak of a rare and deadly disease.”

Bali Health Agency is the only government body on the resort island mandated with such authority and Suarjaya denied that it had released a warning on JE.

The piece then states that JE has emerged in Indonesia, and that Bali has the highest number of cases.

Similar reports also appeared in the online edition of news.com.au and dailymail.co.uk, with the latter having gone as far as stating “... Japanese encephalitis explodes in Bali.”

“The number of JE case in Bali since April is zero,” Suarjaya stressed.

He disclosed that in April, the health authority had carried out a massive island-wide JE vaccination drive targeting more than 960,000 children aged 9 months to 15 years old, the most vulnerable group to the infection that could cause brain swelling. 

The drive was completed with 101.78 percent coverage.

“The drive also targeted a large number of children with parents who were temporary residents or migrant workers on the island. That’s why the coverage rate is above 100 percent,”

Since the drive, not a single case of JE has been reported to health facilities across the island.

Suarjaya acknowledged that Bali had previously recorded the highest number of JE cases in the country, with six confirmed cases in 2014, 22 in 2015 and 17 in 2016.

“Prior to April this year, there were 116 suspected JE cases, however after a medical examination only one case was verified as JE, and there were no fatalities,” he said.

Data at Sanglah Central Hospital, a tertiary referral hospital with a special ward for highly contagious diseases, has confirmed Suarjaya’s statement.

“Our records show that we are currently not treating any patient diagnosed with JE,” hospital spokesperson Dewa Kresna said.

A viral infection of the brain caused by the JE virus, which is commonly spread by infected mosquitos, could cause brain inflammation, which takes place five to 15 days after infection. Symptoms associated with JE include nausea, vomiting, headache, fever and confusion. 

Bali Deputy Governor Tjokorda Artha Ardhana Sukawati asked the local tourist industry to remain calm in responding to the unfounded report.

“Do provide a clear and measured response to your partners and clients abroad. The official data we have clearly refutes those reports in foreign media,” he said.

A respected figure in the tourist industry, Sukawati, said Bali was no stranger to negative issues.

“It’s part of being a top tourist destination. The important thing is maintaining an open and honest communication channel,” he said. 

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