Mosquito sitting on someone's arm

Ross River Fever

What is Ross River fever and how can you manage it?

Ross River fever is an illness caused by infection with the Ross River virus, an arbovirus (arthropod-borne virus) related to the Barmah Forest virus.

How is Ross River fever spread?

Ross River fever is spread from infected animals to humans via mosquito bites. When a female mosquito feeds on the blood of an infected kangaroo, wallaby, horse, possum, bird or flying fox, she becomes infected with the virus, which then multiplies within her and is passed on to humans through her bite.

While more than 30 species of mosquitoes can be carriers, the main culprits are Culex annulirostris in inland areas of Australia, Aedes vigilax in northern coastal regions and Aedes camptorhynchus in southern coastal regions.

Who is at risk of contracting Ross River fever?

People who live near known mosquito habitats such as bodies of water, and in warm, humid climates are most at risk of infection. Outbreaks often occur when local conditions such as rainfall, tides and temperature are most conducive to mosquitoes breeding, often in summer and autumn.

What are the symptoms of Ross River fever?

Many children and young people infected with Ross River fever have no symptoms at all, but the severity of symptoms increases with age and may include:

  • Joint pain, swelling and stiffness. Areas particularly affected are the wrists, knees, ankles, fingers, elbows, shoulders and jaw.
  • Flu-like symptoms. Symptoms include fever, chills and aches and pains in the muscles and joints.
  • Rash. An outbreak can occur on the torso, arms or legs.
  • Enlargement of lymph nodes. Inflammation is especially prevalent in the groin or armpit.
  • Pins and needles. Ross River Fever may cause tenderness on the soles of the feet and palms of the hands.
  • Headaches. Those infected may experience headaches, especially behind the eyes.
  • Fatigue. A general feeling of being tired, weak and unwell is common.

Symptoms usually develop around 7-10 days and disappear within six weeks, although some people can experience symptoms for many months and even years after being infected.

How is Ross River fever diagnosed?

Once symptoms appear, a blood test is the main method for confirming a diagnosis of Ross River fever. The levels of antibodies fighting the infection in a patient’s body are measured and then usually compared with another sample taken two weeks later to confirm the infection.

A doctor who diagnoses Ross River fever in a patient must notify the Department of Health so that areas where the virus is active can be identified and public health action such as health warnings or chemical spraying can be undertaken if necessary.

Are there any treatment options for Ross River fever?

There is no specific treatment for Ross River fever and no vaccine to prevent infection. Treatment consists largely of relieving symptom discomfort and may include:

  • Painkillers such as aspirin and paracetamol for a headache and fever
  • Anti-inflammatories for joint pain and swelling
  • Gentle exercise, stress management, physiotherapy, hydrotherapy and plenty of rest

Can Ross River fever be prevented?

The key to protection from Ross River fever is prevention, and there several ways to reduce the likelihood of infection including:

Personal protection

  • Make sure you have insect screens on all doors and windows in your home.
  • Cover up when outside in long-sleeved, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Apply mosquito repellent to any areas of exposed skin.
  • Take special care in mosquito-prone areas and try to avoid being outdoors around dawn and dusk.

Environmental management

  • Control potential mosquito breeding sites such as swamps and open drains
  • Encourage homeowners to empty standing water from areas around their homes such as ponds, plant pots, buckets and wheelbarrows
  • Spray infested areas and known mosquito hotspots with residual chemical sprays

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Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment is not an endorsement and does not imply its appropriateness for your circumstances. Our information is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional and you should not rely on this general information for diagnosis or answers for your particular circumstances. Instead seek advice from a registered health care professional. This content has been prepared for Australian audiences and was accurate at the time of publication but, over time, the currency and completeness of the published material may change.

Picture: Shutterstock

Richard Laycock

Richard is the insurance editor at finder.com.au. He is on a mission to make insurance easier to understand.

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