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Rugby fans heading to Japan warned about deadly brain infection

Rugby fans travelling to Japan for the World Cup are being advised to consider getting vaccinated in order to avoid contracting a deadly viral brain infection.

English rugby legend John Bentley is among the campaigners raising awareness about Japanese Encephalitis, which is spread through mosquito bites, ahead of the tournament in September.

Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain, an often devastating condition that can lead to death and "acquired brain injury".

Image: Japanese Encephalitis is spread through mosquito bites

Up to one in three people who develop these more serious symptoms will die as a result of the infection.

However, the condition, which is most common in rural areas in southeast Asia, the Pacific islands and the Far East, is easily preventable with a simple vaccination.


With a month to go until the Japanese Rugby World Cup 2019, more than 600,000 of the 1.8 million available tickets are expected to be held by international fans.

Such mass gatherings can put a huge strain on host countries, and the World Health Organisation and Centre for Disease Control and Prevention have advised all those planning to travel to seek specialist travel health advice first.

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John Bentley, known as "Bentos" during his international rugby career, is supporting the campaign to encourage fans to be fully prepared in plenty of time before the games.

He told Sky News: "Supporters, not just rugby players, won't just take in the rugby, they'll take in all different aspects of the country and embrace the culture, and perhaps travel into areas where they could be vulnerable."

John Bentley of the British Lions in action in 1997
Image: John Bentley, formerly of the British Lions, in action in 1997

Full time carer of a Japanese Encephalitis survivor, Dr Robert Annewandter, is also working with the Encephalitis Society to raise awareness of the condition.

His partner Sophie Williams, 35, contracted Japanese Encephalitis four years ago, while researching the illegal trade in orchids in Bangkok.

She is now a resident in a care home for the elderly in Wrexham, is unable to move and is on a ventilator needing 24-hour care.

Sophie is now cared for around the clock
Image: Sophie is now cared for around the clock

Dr Annewandter, 41, said Sophie is not showing any signs of improvement.

He said: "Sophie is not motivated anymore and cries when I come in and see her. She wants the television on all the time and is not engaging in many conversations.

Sophie contracted the deadly brain virus four years ago
Image: Sophie contracted the deadly brain virus four years ago
Image: Dr Robert Annewandter (R) says partner Sophie is the love of his life

"She has just given up and it is heartbreaking because this can be prevented. It's devastating really, she is just a different person.

"But she is the love of my life, I would never leave her", he added.

Dr Ava Easton, chief executive of the Encephalitis Society, said only those expanding their Japan trip to rural areas and neighbouring countries should consider getting vaccinated.

She said: "The message for the Rugby World Cup is that travel health is important, and this campaign that we are running, is encouraging fans travelling to Japan to seek specialist travel health advice which is appropriate to their plans and destinations.

Those travelling to rural parts of Japan are advised to seek travel health advice
Image: Those travelling to rural parts of Japan are advised to seek travel health advice

"If they're just flying in, just to watch the matches in the cities, then really, they probably don't need any kind of vaccines.

"But people don't just do that, they often extend their stays and see much of what's a very beautiful country.

"And if they're going to be spending extended periods in the countryside, then vaccination is maybe something that they want to talk to a specialist travel health adviser about before they go."

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