Ross River virus 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 Queensland, the Northern Territory and the Kimberly region of Western Australia between January and April, especially after heavy rainfall or high tides. About 4,000 people get the virus every year, and it is becoming more common on the fringes of urban areas.
(Ross River virus is both the name of the virus, and the name of the condition it causes. It is also known as Ross River fever and epidemic polyarthritis.)
What are the causes and symptoms of Ross River virus?
Ross River virus is spread when the bite of an infected mosquito allows the virus to enter the bloodstream. By the time symptoms appear, the virus will have spread throughout the body.
Many people who have Ross River virus never develop symptoms. If symptoms do appear, it can be at any time between 3 days and 3 weeks after the person is bitten by an infected mosquito.
The most common symptom is pain in the joints — mainly the fingers, toes, hands, feet, elbows and knees. Other symptoms include:
Symptoms usually ease within 3 to 6 months. 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.
Having a blood test to measure your levels of antibodies to the infection can allow your doctor to confirm a diagnosis of Ross River virus.
How is Ross River virus treated?
There is no known cure for Ross River virus, but painkillers such as paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help relieve the symptoms. Most people will recover in time.
How can Ross River virus be prevented?
There is no vaccine for Ross River virus, so prevention is important. Mosquitoes live in still water and outbreaks of Ross River virus can occur when and where they breed. These times include after heavy rainfalls, when both humidity and water levels are high.
You can protect yourself against Ross River virus by:
- staying indoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitos are most active
- using insect repellants
- covering up when outside, with light coloured clothing and covered footwear
- burning citronella candles and mosquito coils
- covering windows, doors, vents and other entrances with screens
- sleeping under a mosquito net
If you also make sure you do not have any pools of still water around your house, that will reduce the number of mosquitoes
Learn more about insect bites and how to prevent them here.
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Last reviewed: January 2020