Ross River Virus & Barmah Forest Virus

Ross River virus and Barmah Forest virus are infections that are spread to humans through mosquito bites. Both cause similar illnesses, including joint inflammation and pain. Ross River virus is also known as epidemic polyarthritis.

About 30% of people infected with these viruses will develop symptoms, which appear within 3 to 21 days after infection. Symptoms can include:

  • A rash (small red spots) on the trunk and limbs, lasting around 7-10 days.
  • General illness with fever, chills, headaches and tiredness.
  • Joint pain, stiffness and swelling. This commonly affects the fingers, wrists, ankles and knees, but any joint can be affected as well as the tissues surrounding joints (muscles, ligaments and tendons). 

Who is affected?

Ross River virus is the most common and widespread of mosquito borne diseases that infect humans in Australia. People of all ages are at risk of developing these infections.

Protection against mosquito bites is the best way to avoid infection.

What causes these viruses?

You can be infected if you are bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus.

Infections can occur throughout most regions of Australia, but tend to be more common in regions with a warm, humid climate that are close to bodies of water where mosquitoes breed.

Outbreaks also occur when local conditions of rainfall, tides and temperature result in increased mosquito populations.

How is it diagnosed?

Ross River virus or Barmah Forest virus infection can by diagnosed by your doctor from your symptoms and physical examination.

A blood test can confirm that there has been recent infection by the virus although it may need to be repeated to be certain. Your doctor may also order blood tests to help rule out other types of arthritis as the symptoms may be similar.

How is it treated?

Most people recover completely from these viruses. But, recovery can take a few weeks to a few months (or longer in some cases) and symptoms may persist, or come and go.

There is no known cure but most people recover with time. There are also many treatments available to relieve symptoms and to help control joint pain and swelling. The viruses do not cause any permanent damage to the joints and joints will recover fully over time.

Download our free information sheet - Ross River virus and Barmah Forest virus

More information and support

Download our handy info sheets to learn more about managing arthritis and joint pain

Join one of our online support groups to connect with other Australians living with arthritis. 

Have questions? Call our free infoline on 1800 011 041 to speak with a member of our health team. 

Browse our Arthritis Insights articles for tips and information to help you live well with arthritis.