Ross River virus

Ross River virus infection is spread by the bites of infected female mosquitoes (freshwater and saltwater), but it causes symptoms in only some of the people infected.

Ross River virus symptoms

The symptoms of Ross River virus infection are often vague and mild cases are often dismissed as a mild dose of flu. Symptoms usually appear 3-11 days after the mosquito bite.

Most sufferers will have a sudden onset of flu-like symptoms that often include painful, sometimes swollen, joints. Ankles, knees, fingers and wrists are commonly affected. There is often fever and chills and a faint red rash may be present for a few days.

Extreme tiredness and painful muscles, especially after exercise, are very common complaints. These may affect work or school performance. The joint symptoms and tiredness may last for many months, but most people recover in a few weeks.

Who gets Ross River virus infection?

Ross River virus occurs in Australia and Papua New Guinea. People who spend time outdoors, especially in areas near water with high concentrations of mosquitos are at greatest risk of being infected. During winter, the risk is lower. Ross River virus is the most common mosquito-borne infection in Australia. It cannot be transmitted from person to person.

How is Ross River virus diagnosed?

A diagnosis of Ross River virus infection can be made by your doctor after talking to you and examining you for symptoms. Blood tests which detect antibodies to the virus can confirm the diagnosis, but are not always necessary. They may be useful to eliminate other causes of similar symptoms, such as Barmah Forest virus or non-infective causes of joint pains. Ross River virus infection is a notifiable disease in Australia - this allows health authorities to keep track of outbreaks.

Ross River virus treatment

There is no simple cure for this disease. Treatment consists of managing symptoms. This may involve bed rest and pain relief with aspirin or paracetamol for the joint pains. Sometimes stronger medicines are needed. Gentle exercise may be recommended for the joints.

Most people feel much better in 2-3 weeks and are back to normal within 3 months. However, in a few people the infection lingers on and can produce recurrent symptoms for months.

Prevention

The only way to protect against Ross River virus infection is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. Here are some measures to avoid being bitten:

  • use appropriate insect repellants, especially if you are outdoors around dusk, in an area where mosquitos are found. Read the instructions, especially regarding use and children;
  • wear light coloured clothing that covers your arms and legs;
  • wear permethrin-treated clothing and camping gear;
  • avoid wearing perfumes or other scents such as aftershave.
  • avoid being outside in the early evening;
  • sleep and stay in rooms with airconditioning or screens;
  • if your bedroom is exposed to the outdoors, use a mosquito net around the bed;
  • when camping, use flyscreens and sleep under a mosquito net;
  • check your house and garden for areas where water can collect, such as blocked gutters, rubbish dumps, pot plants, outdoor furniture, and so on. Remove the water - this will eliminate potential mosquito breeding grounds.
Last Reviewed: 6 October 2015
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References

1. CDC. Ross River Virus. Updated April 2015. http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/diseases/ross-river-virus-disease (accessed Sept 2015).
2. NSW Health. Ross River Fever. Updated July 2012. http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/Ross-River-Fever.aspx (accessed Sept 2015).
3. Queensland Health. Ross River Virus. Updated Aug 2014. http://conditions.health.qld.gov.au/HealthCondition/condition/14/217/120/Ross-River-Virus (accessed Sept 2015).
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