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Ross River virus infection

Michael J Richards, MD, FRACP
Section Editor
Martin S Hirsch, MD
Deputy Editor
Elinor L Baron, MD, DTMH


Ross River virus (RRV) is a group A arbovirus transmitted by mosquitoes that causes a disease manifested by polyarthritis and rash. The illness was first described in northern Australia in 1928 and subsequently has been observed widely through Australia and many islands of the western South Pacific. It is the most prevalent vector-borne disease in Australia. The virus can be transmitted by many mosquito species and survives in mosquito eggs in arid environments. Therefore, it has the capacity to spread to other geographic areas.

Other viruses that cause arthritis are discussed separately. (See "Specific viruses that cause arthritis".)


Ross River virus (RRV) infection has been described in mainland Australia [1], Papua New Guinea [2], the Solomon Islands, the islands of eastern Indonesia, the western South Pacific [3,4], Fiji [5], and American Samoa [6]. As many as 500,000 people were infected in Fiji when the disease first appeared in 1979 [5]. Outbreaks have been described in American Samoa, New Caledonia, French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, and most states of Australia [7,8]. Over 30 percent of blood donors in French Polynesia are seropositive [9].

In Australia, six to seven thousand people are infected annually [10,11]. The highest rates of infection have been reported from the Northern Territory [12]. Endemic foci also occur in more temperate eastern Australia. Infection has been observed in the outskirts of Sydney since 1997 [13]. Between 2006 and 2009, increasing modifications were noted from the Perth metropolitan area in off-seasons (June to September) [14]. Epidemics have increased in frequency, size, and range throughout European settlements of Australia [15]. The geographic range is expanding in Queensland [16] and South Australia [17]. In Queensland, areas adjacent to Townsville, on the eastern coast, and southeast Queensland, especially in summer and autumn, are particularly affected [18].

RRV infection occurs most frequently in tropical coastal regions with salt marsh habitats suitable for the principal mosquito vector species [19]. The infection is most common in spring, after summer rains, or following inundation of salt marshes by rain or tides. The virus persists in arid areas of inland Australia within desiccation-resistant mosquito eggs. Outbreaks occur after rain, when mosquitoes hatch [20].

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Literature review current through: Dec 2017. | This topic last updated: Jul 01, 2016.
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