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Ross River virus

4-minute read

Key facts

  • Ross River virus is an infection spread by mosquitoes.
  • Symptoms include joint pain, fever and rash.
  • Most people feel better within a few weeks, but sometimes it can take a few months.
  • There is no cure for Ross River virus, but pain relief medicines can help control your symptoms.
  • The best way to prevent Ross River virus is to avoid mosquito bites. There are a number of ways you can protect yourself.

What is Ross River virus?

Ross River virus, also known as Ross River fever and epidemic polyarthritis, is an infection that is spread to humans through mosquitoes. Symptoms of infection include joint pain, fever and rash. Most people recover in a few weeks, but symptoms can continue for months.

The virus can be found anywhere in Australia but is more common in the tropical areas of Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia. It is more common between February and May, especially after heavy rainfall or high tides.

How might I catch Ross River virus?

You can catch Ross River virus if you are bitten by an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes live in still water, including puddles and buckets. Outbreaks of Ross River virus can occur when and where mosquitoes breed. The highest risk is in warm, humid areas near water.

Ross River virus does not spread from person to person.

Many people who are infected with Ross River virus never develop symptoms. If you do get symptoms, they can start at any time between 3 days and 3 weeks after an infected mosquito bites you.

What are the symptoms of Ross River virus?

The most common symptom is pain in the joints — mainly the fingers, wrists, ankles, and knees, but it can affect any joint.

Other symptoms include:

How long does it last?

Symptoms usually pass within 6 weeks. Sometimes it can take a few months or (rarely) over a year to settle. During this time, your symptoms might come and go.

Your joints will eventually recover completely. About 1 in 10 people may continue to feel tired or depressed.

Visit your doctor if you are concerned or need relief from symptoms.

How is Ross River virus diagnosed?

Your doctor can diagnose Ross River virus by examining you and checking whether you live in or have recently travelled to an area where there is a high risk of becoming infected.

The diagnosis is confirmed by a blood test to measure your antibody levels to the virus. You’ll need to have two blood tests taken 2 to 4 weeks apart so the levels can be compared.

If you test positive for Ross River virus, the lab is required to notify the health department.

You might also need other blood tests to rule out other types of arthritis.

How is Ross River virus treated?

There is no known cure for Ross River virus, but pain relieving medicines such as paracetamol and anti-inflammatory medicines (such as ibuprofen) can help relieve your symptoms. It’s also important to rest, eat a healthy diet and get some exercise.

How can I avoid catching Ross River virus?

There is no vaccine for Ross River virus, so preventing mosquito bites is important. You can protect yourself by:

  • staying indoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitos are most active
  • using approved insect repellents
  • covering up when you’re outside, with loose light coloured clothing and covered footwear
  • using mosquito lanterns or coils
  • covering windows, doors, vents and other entrances with screens
  • sleeping under a mosquito net
  • covering water tanks and preventing pools of water from building up around your property, to prevent mosquitoes breeding

Learn more about mosquito bites and how to prevent them.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2022

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