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What is Ross River virus?

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In New South Wales, Australia, Forty-two people have been
diagnosed with the Ross River virus this month. While it’s certainly not time
to panic, here’s what you should need to know about this virus.

Ross River virus infection is the most commonly reported
mosquito-borne disease in Australia, “flu-like
symptoms”
of illness are reported every year. Activity has been
recorded from every state and territory in the country. While Ross River virus
generally considered a disease of rural regions, it is increasingly active at
urban fringes.
Ross River virus is not fatal but it can be debilitating.
The symptoms typically include “flu-like
symptoms”
such as fever, chills, headache, muscle and joint pain and a
general feeling of fatigue. The symptoms develop a week or so after being
bitten by an infected mosquito. But while they typically last less than two
weeks, there are cases where fatigue, muscle and joint pain persist for many
months.
Ross River virus is a notifiable
disease
, so infection can only be confirmed through a blood test. For this
reason – and because the severity and duration of symptoms can be highly
variable – it is strongly suspected that many cases go unreported and that the
official statistics are a dramatic underestimate of the total number of
infections each year.


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There are no specific treatments or vaccines, so preventing mosquito bites
is critical in avoiding disease. It’s difficult to predict
outbreaks
and governments don’t have the capacity to undertake broad-scale
mosquito control in all regions, so health authorities generally focus their
efforts on raising awareness and issuing warnings, based on information from local surveillance programs

How Ross River viruses transmit? 

There are more than 40
mosquito species
that may play a role in transmitting the virus. This is a
problem because the mosquitoes transmitting the virus during outbreaks may vary
from region to region, making it difficult to track.

It is also a problem because the environmental drivers of mosquito abundance
will change from region to region. This means that in some locations, the risks
of an outbreak may be triggered by rainfall while in others, it is the tidal
flooding of coastal wetlands. While it is not surprising that outbreaks
generally occur when mosquito populations are high, abundant mosquito
populations and wetlands don’t
guarantee
an outbreak will occur.
Mosquitoes generally don’t hatch out of the wetlands infected with Ross
River virus, they must bite an infected animal first. The most important
reservoirs for Ross River virus are macropods (kangaroos and wallabies).
There have been Ross River virus cases from most of our major metropolitan
centres. In many urban fringe areas, newly constructed wetlands are increasing
the abundance
of local mosquito populations, while the control of foxes and
feral cats has led to an increase in populations of wallabies.
Wallabies using the bushland corridors along our rivers and estuaries
therefore may be increasing the risks of Ross River virus. This potential has
been illustrated by the recent public health
warnings
issued due to the detection of Ross River virus in mosquitoes collected
along the Georges River
in southern Sydney where wallabies are common within
Georges River National Park.
 

How it can be prevented? 

It’s important to protect yourself from mosquito bites with protective
clothing or topical
insect repellents
when you’re around wetland and bushland areas,
particularly at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active. Remember,
even though mosquito populations are falling, autumn is actually the peak
period of virus activity. You may not be swamped by mozzies but you should
still take precautions to avoid bites. 

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