Updated 14 August 2022 | Approved By Dr. Umberto Russo
What is Ross River Virus?Ross River Virus is a condition that is transmitted through the bites of infected mosquitos. It is commonly found around Australia and the surrounding Pacific Islands (e.g. Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, etc.). While 55-75% of infected humans are asymptomatic, others experience symptoms like joint pain and muscle aches . Every year, around 4000-5000 Australians are diagnosed with Ross River Virus . Adults aged 25-44 are most likely to become infected with this condition. Outbreaks frequently occur during high tides and increased rainfalls due to the increase in mosquito numbers.
Where is Ross River Virus Found in Australia?In Australia, Ross River Virus is most commonly found in Queensland, Northern Territory and the Kimberley Region from Western Australia . Most cases occur during the wet season (December to April) when there is a high number of mosquitos .
Ross River Virus SymptomsEpidemic polyarthritis is a term previously used to describe mosquito-borne conditions, such as Ross River Virus. Polyarthritis refers to inflammation and pain along multiple joints around the body, which is the most common symptom of this condition . However, many people infected with Ross River Virus have no symptoms, especially children. Other symptoms of Ross River Virus, include:
- Muscle aches and soreness
- Ross River Virus rash
What Causes Ross River Virus?Ross River Virus is transmitted to humans after being bitten by infected mosquitoes. Scientists will describe mosquitoes as a vector for this virus. Vectors help carry and transmit the virus from the reservoir (where the virus originated) to the new host (humans). The Ross River Virus is a type of alphavirus found initially in animals, such as kangaroos, wallabies, possums and horses. Alphaviruses commonly transfer from animals (such as the ones listed) to humans . Over 30 types of mosquitoes can transmit this virus to humans. As a result, minimising exposure to mosquitos is an important prevention strategy.
Is Ross River Virus Contagious?No. According to the Queensland Government, “Ross River Virus infection cannot be transmitted from human to human.” The most common way of transmission is from being bitten by infected mosquitoes.
Tests and DiagnosisAlways see a GP to ensure that you receive an accurate diagnosis. Before performing tests and providing a diagnosis, your GP may ask you several relevant questions, including your travel history and your current symptoms. If necessary, your GP will ask you to undergo blood tests. Several tests over days and/or weeks may be required to confirm a Ross River Virus infection diagnosis .
Ross River Virus TreatmentsCurrently, there are no specific treatments available for Ross River Virus. Some people experience severe symptoms, including joint pain and fatigue, compared to many with no problems. GPs can recommend specific treatments that can help provide symptomatically and pain relief until complete recovery.
PreventionMinimising the risk of infection by limiting mosquito exposure is crucial for preventing Ross River Virus transmission. Those who live or travel around Northern Australia or nearby Pacific Islands (e.g. Fiji, Papua New Guinea, etc.) during the wet season should be cautious. Actions you can take to reduce the risk of mosquito infection include:
- Wearing clothes to limit skin exposure
- Using insect and/or mosquito repellent
- Consider travelling during other times of the year
- Reducing moisture and excess water around the home (e.g. mowing the lawn regularly, keeping drains and gutters clean, etc.)
- Using a bed net to sleep
- Using insecticides
MedicationsGPs can help prescribe and recommend medications that can relieve symptoms (e.g. pain, swelling, etc.). Research has shown that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and pain relief medications have been effective .
RheumatologistIf you have severe and persistent symptoms, your GP may refer you to a rheumatologist (a joint and bone specialist). By working with your GP, they will be able to provide more specialised treatment and management plans.
Other TreatmentYour GP may also recommend other forms of treatment to help ease your symptoms. Given that joint and muscle pain is a common symptom, physical therapies may be suggested, including:
- Low-impact exercise (e.g. bike riding)
How Long Does Ross River Virus Last?Recovery periods for infected people will vary depending on factors such as age, fitness and past medical history. Research suggests that most symptoms will resolve between 3-6 months . Those with other pre-existing conditions, such as arthritis, may have a longer recovery process, between 6-12 months. Only about one in sixty individuals without an underlying chronic disease may experience Ross River Virus symptoms at 12 months .
Can you get Ross River Virus twice?Most people who are infected with Ross River Virus will not get infected again . However, some symptoms may reappear even after recovering from the condition .
ComplicationsMost people living with Ross River Virus will either not experience any symptoms and usually recover within 3-6 months . Additionally, long-term health complications are not generally expected. However, some people may experience difficulties with managing symptoms during the early stages of the condition. On average, infected workers take around two days off work throughout their recovery . Medications and strategies from your doctor can help with immediate and long-term relief.
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