What Is Ross River Virus

Ross River virus (RRV) is a rare virus that causes skin rash and joint pains. Humans get this virus by the bite of infected mosquitoes. Similar to malaria, this virus is not contagious from human to human.

Ross River virus is found most commonly ( endemic) in some regions like:1

  • Australia
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Fiji
  • American Samoa
  • New Caledonia
  • the Cook Islands.

Ross River virus is also called epidemic polyarthritis. This article enlists all the information regarding this alphavirus in the following paragraphs.


Ross River virus was named after the river from where it was identified for the first time in 1959. The RRV virus was isolated from Aedes vigilax mosquitoes near Ross River in Townsville. In 1971 it was found that RRV virus was the causative of Ross River disease.

RRV disease not only spreads from mosquitoes but can also be transmitted from mother to child. RRV spreads most commonly between the months of February to May, especially after heavy rainfall or high tides. That is the period of mosquito breeding where there are more chances to get infections from mosquitoes.

Causes of ross river virus

RRV is caused due to arbovirus. RRV is an RNA virus, belonging to the family Togaviridae and genus Alphavirus.1 These single-stranded RNA viruses are approximately 11.8 kb in size, encoded with structured and unstructured genes through two open frames.1

RRV gets transmitted between animals and mosquitoes. Humans get in between when they get bitten by a mosquito carrying a virus. That's why mosquitoes are termed as vectors for diseases like malaria, filariasis, and various viral infections.1 Vectors can be defined as the organisms that carry disease and transmit it to humans.

It is found that these viruses can infect a human from a mosquito bite, but can not be transmitted from one human to another.2 There are rare instances where viruses get transmitted through blood transfusions and from mother to child.

Signs and symptoms of the ross river virus

Ross River fever can last for a week or two. The time between the mosquito bite and onset of symptoms, called the incubation period, lasts from 7-10 days usually but it may also range from 3- 21 days in some cases. Symptoms can be enlisted as:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Joint pains
  • Muscle pains
  • Joint stiffness
  • Joint swellings
  • Aching tendons
  • Skin rash on body, arms, and legs
  • Weakness
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Less common symptoms are:

  • Sore eyes
  • Sore throat
  • Nausea
  • Tingling in palms of hands
  • Tingling in soles of feet

The symptoms are similar to any other viral infection. Symptoms are seen in 1 in 3 infected persons. But when present, fever, nausea, and skin rashes last for a maximum of 2 weeks. Weakness and joint pains can last longer than usual up to 6 months and can cause distress and depression. In some, the joint pains can last up to 6 months to 2 years. 

On the contrary, some may not feel any. Some people can experience a recurrence of pain after some time. Some pains may persist for longer periods causing emotional and psychological downturns.

It is difficult to predict who would recoup earlier and who would suffer longer periods of symptoms due to the infection.

Management and treatment for ross river virus

There is no fixed protocol for the treatment of RRV.  The treatment is aimed to ease the symptoms only.

  • When the fever is high, paracetamol has to be administered
  • When there are muscle and joint pains, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen are prescribed
  • It is important to maintain adequate hydration
  • Very few patients require Intravenous (IV) fluids to get some relief from the symptoms
  • Complete rest can help the body to fight the infection and recoup earlier
  • Good food intake can help our immunity to boost


How is the ross river virus diagnosed?

Whenever you are having the above-said symptoms, your doctor may prescribe blood tests to check for RRV antibodies. The blood test has to be conducted 2- 4 weeks apart to check for changes in the antibody concentration.

Your medical professional may also prescribe other blood tests to rule out the other reasons that may cause joint and muscle pains.

Can ross river virus be prevented?

Ross virus can be prevented by avoiding mosquito bites.3,4 When you are in endemic regions or mosquito-prone areas:

  • It is best to wear clothing that cover the legs and hands
  • Wear shoes that cover your feet completely
  • Wear long, loose-fitting and light-coloured clothing
  • It is best to avoid dawn and dusk portions of the day to roam outside, as these are times when mosquitoes are most active
  • Using mosquito repellant 
  • Using mosquito nets while sleeping outside
  • Cover all the doors, windows, vents, and other entrances with insect screens
  • Remove containers that hold retained water where mosquitoes can breed
  • Use insecticide, vapor dispensing units, mosquito coils to repel mosquitoes from your rooms
  • Children also have to be taken care of. Parents have to make sure to cover their bodies completely with proper dress wear to avoid mosquito bites
  • Children's skin can not bear mosquito repellants. Hence they have to be given sensitive skin or natural repellents to prevent RRV
  • As the infection is endemic to certain geographical areas, it's best to avoid planning a tour of those areas during mosquito breeding season

Who is at risk of the ross river virus?

Those who are at a higher risk of getting RRV are:

  • People living in warm and humid climates, near bodies of water
  • People who live in or visit wetlands or rivers
  • People who have been bitten by mosquitoes in the affected areas
  • People who spend more time outdoors like camping, hiking, or gardening in coastal and inland areas
  • People traveling to endemic areas in mosquito breeding time

How common is the ross river virus?

RRV is endemic to Australia. It is most commonly found in travelers to Australia and Papua New Guinea areas. It is the most common in people living there too. Annually in Australia, approximately 4000 human cases were recorded. Travelers going to these places at times of mosquito breeding seasons and spending more time outdoors were more prone to develop the infection.

When should I see a doctor?

It is better to consult a medical professional whenever you notice the above-mentioned symptoms. Though Ross River disease does not cause death, it can lower the quality of life, due to long-lasting weakness, joint pains, and muscle pains. Medical assistance has to be taken regarding these issues. 


Ross River fever was not proven to take the life of a person but it can alter the quality of life. Hence one should take care not to be infected by this virus. Taking proper care to avoid mosquito bites is the only prevention technique to be followed. Avoiding travel to endemic regions and taking all precautionary steps to avoid mosquito bites will help. But whenever infected, it is better to be careful to take medical advice and be under medical supervision, till the symptoms disappear.


  1.  Harley D, Sleigh A, Ritchie S. Ross river virus transmission, infection, and disease:  a cross-disciplinary review. Clin Microbiol Rev [Internet]. 2001 Oct [cited 2023 Aug 14];14(4):909–32. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC89008
  2. . Shocket MS, Ryan SJ, Mordecai EA. Temperature explains broad patterns of Ross River virus transmission. Lipsitch M, Baldwin IT, editors. eLife [Internet]. 2018 Aug 28 [cited 2023 Aug 14];7:e37762. Available from: https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.37762
  3.  Claflin SB, Webb CE. Ross river virus: many vectors and unusual hosts make for an unpredictable pathogen. PLOS Pathogens [Internet]. 2015 Sep 3 [cited 2023 Aug 14];11(9):e1005070. Available from: https://journals.plos.org/plospathogens/article?id=10.1371/journal.ppat.1005070
  4. . Qian W, Viennet E, Glass K, Harley D. Epidemiological models for predicting Ross River virus in Australia: A systematic review. PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases [Internet]. 2020 Sep 24 [cited 2023 Aug 14];14(9):e0008621. Available from: https://journals.plos.org/plosntds/article?id=10.1371/journal.pntd.0008621
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Swathi Gadadasu

I am Dr Swathi G, from India, with experience as a dental clinician for 8 years, oral physician and Oral Maxillofacial Radiologist for 4 years, an academician for 3.5 years, an academic writer for 3 years and a medical writer for 1 year. With sound knowledge of clinical, non-clinical, scientific and academic and medical writing, working as a Freelancer Writer at Work foster. Due to my passion for writing, completed many national and international Publications in various indexed and well-known journals.

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