Ross River Fever

By Marla Kennedy

Cause of disease

People contract Ross River fever through an infected mosquito bite. To evaluate, it is one of a group of viruses called arboviruses, spread by infected mosquitoes- airborne transmitters. I assess that the only way you can catch the disease is if you are bitten, not from any skin to skin contact among humans. The incubation period, (the time between being bitten and getting sick) varies from three days to three weeks. The disease was first contracted in New South Wales, but is also found in all states of Australia and many islands in the South Pacific. I justify that it is the most common airborne virus in Australia, as it infects an average of 5000 people annually.

Ross River fever is most abundant from spring to autumn, but more specifically between December and January. There are several different types of mosquitoes that carry this virus and to differentiate, they include the Culex annulirostris- prone to inland areas, Aedes vigilax- northern coastal regions and Aedes notoscriptus- the backyard mosquito. A rise in these mosquitoes is particularly shown during the warmer parts of the year, and people are recommended to remove all possible locations of stagnant water, sources of water such as swimming pools or filled buckets for mosquitoes carrying the disease to breed and reproduce. Most current notifications are from Queensland, tropical Western Australia and the Northern Territory. People infected with the disease will often recover; however, I judge the period is prolonged for some, as the recovery for patients range from three months to a year. The disease is an endemic to Australia, Papua New Guinea and a number of islands in the South Pacific.

Ross River fever is more characteristic of rural or regional areas and areas such as marshes, wetlands, waterways and farms with irrigation systems have a high risk of becoming contaminated. Generally, a person infected would most likely be between 25-44 years of age and is on the Australian Department of Health and Ageing's list of notifiable diseases. The disease has become less common throughout the past decade, with more advertising on possible prevention of the disease, e.g. insect repellent, wearing light coloured clothing and staying indoors during dusk/dawn hours when mosquitoes are most active.

How it is spread

Notifications of Ross River fever from 2011 to 2012

Ross River Fever also called Ross river virus is spread by female mosquitoes that undergo the following process: Mosquitoes that feed on the blood of infected animals have the risk of consuming the virus. The virus multiplies within the mosquito and is passed on to other animals or people through their saliva when it feeds again. Epidemics of Ross River fever occur from time to time and are more common during environmental conditions that encourage mosquito breeding, such as heavy rainfall, floods, high tides and warm temperature. Because of the conditions at the time, I rate the disease to be more likely to be spread.

Cycle of the Ross River fever disease


The majority of people who catch the virus never develop symptoms. Arranged in order of how they come, the flu-like symptoms develop first, hence the name fever. Chills, headache or aches and pains in the joints could also develop. The joint pain can be severe and usually lasts from two to six weeks. Joints can become inflamed, particularly noticeable and stiff in the morning. The swelling especially infects the fingers, wrists and feet. Typically, the flu-like symptoms go within a month, but the joint/muscle pain or stiffness lingers.


The virus is diagnosed by a blood test confirming the disease. Treatment involves managing the symptoms that develop, including taking medicines for pain relief or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. There is no vaccine or medical cure to prevent the Ross River virus, so I conclude that the treatment aims to relieve joint pain and swelling, and minimize fatigue and lethargy. Most people recover with time.


A patient will not get worse if they don’t take any medication. Most people will experience resolution of major symptoms within three to six months. Some patients may have a long-term course of symptoms, with constant fatigue and poor concentration. In some case, the prolonged illness may be due to a different condition, and I summarise that it is important to see a doctor to investigate the illness causing the symptoms. Ross River virus occasionally comes back to patients who have experienced a full recovery.

A team of Australian researches from the University of Canberra have recently made a breakthrough in treating the debilitating joint pain triggered by the virus. They've identified the cell responsible for causing the joint inflammation and tissue damage using their animal model. I synthesize that when the virus infects, it triggers the macrophage cells to congregate in joint and muscle tissues and pump out toxic proteins responsible for the joint pain and swelling. The team trialed an anti-inflammatory drug called Sulfasalazine, originally used for the treatment of Crohn’s disease and colitis, but has shown significant prevention of the joint condition. When these diseases are compared, it is usual for inflamed organs to appear, I predict that this treatment will be used on many other viruses with arthritic symptoms.

Studies are being conducted by the Vaccine Trials Group at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in union with the Princess Margaret Hospital and the University of WA School of Pediatrics for a new vaccine to weaken the virus. Researchers are hoping that the vaccine will be widely available to people within the next three years.


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