.. Information to complement the GP consultation.

General Information

Travel Information

Division Information

Video index

Friendly Print preview

Complete disease listing online - www.health.vic.gov.au/ideas/diseases/quicklinks.htm

Epidemic Polyarthritis (Ross River Virus & Barmah Forest virus)


Epidemic polyarthritis is caused by a virus which is transmitted by certain species of mosquitoes.


Flu-like symptoms are common, and include fever, chills, sweating, headache, aches and pains in muscles and joints, and a dislike of bright light. Some parts of the body may be painful to touch and you might notice swelling in some joints. You could also experience joint stiffness, particularly early in the morning.

Sometimes a rash occurs, usually on the trunk or limbs, although it can occur elsewhere. It will usually resolve in 7 to 10 days. You might also notice a few small purple blotches which look like bruises or small lumps just under the skin, although they should cause no discomfort.

On some days you might feel tired, weak, unable to concentrate, and generally out of sorts or 'down'. School or work performance can be affected. It may be important to inform teachers or employers of these effects.

After a few weeks all of these symptoms will disappear. However, epidemic polyarthritis is an unusual illness in that some of the symptoms may return for periods of time, even after the virus is gone. These include aches, pains, stiffness and swellings referred to earlier.

These symptoms are an indication that the recovery process for epidemic polyarthritis can take longer in some people than for most other viral infections. The symptoms can occur on and off over some time, and full recovery can take several months. The severity of the symptoms will usually decrease each time they occur, and you will eventually recover fully, with no after-effects.


At least one blood test, and often a second taken a week later are necessary to confirm that you have epidemic polyarthritis. Other tests are often needed to exclude illnesses with similar symptoms, especially rubella if the patient, any family member or close acquaintance might be pregnant.


Antibiotics are not effective against the virus. However, the symptoms can be treated effectively. Your doctor will advise what to take for aches, pains or joint swelling, and it may be necessary to try a few different preparations to discover the one which works best for you. If the treatment upsets you in any way, stop it until you speak to your doctor, even though symptoms might temporarily return. Otherwise, avoid changing the dose without consulting your doctor. It is a good idea to keep a record of the names of the medications you take. This will help your doctor at your next visit is any follow-up treatment is needed.


The virus which causes epidemic polyarthritis is transmitted by some (but not all) species of mosquitoes. When a mosquito feeds on an infected animal or human, it takes up the virus. The virus multiplies in the mosquito and is transmitted to a second animal or person during a later feed. In this way, the virus is transferred from one animal (or human) to another, using the mosquito as a carrier or 'vector'.

The virus is not transmitted from one person to another in the absence of a mosquito vector. You cannot transmit the infection directly to your family or acquaintances through normal domestic or casual social contact.

The avoidance of mosquito bites is of great importance in the prevention of epidemic polyarthritis. This can be accomplished in several ways, including:

1. Elimination of breeding sites. Mosquitoes can only breed in water. There are often many sites around the home where water stands for the week or more necessary for eggs to develop into adult mosquitoes. Drainage of these sites or the application of insecticides will reduce mosquito numbers.

2. Self protection. Wear light-coloured clothes which cover as much of the body as possible, particularly in the late afternoon and dusk when mosquitoes are most active. Ensure that insect screens in the home are in good repair. Use a knock-down insecticide before retiring at night. When outdoors, use an effective insect repellent. Your doctor or pharmacist will be able to advise on suitable products.


CAUSE - a virus transmitted by mosquitoes.

SYMPTOMS - muscle and joint pain, rash, fever, headache, joint swelling, tiredness, inability to concentrate and aversion to bright light.

TESTS - one or two blood tests.

TREATMENT - symptomatic, to reduce fever, pain and swelling.

RECOVERY - will be complete, but can take some months as the symptoms can recur periodically, even after the virus has been eliminated.

PREVENTION - avoid mosquito bites. Use protective clothing and insect repellents.


Further Patient Information http://medent.usyd.edu.au/fact/ross%20river%20&%20barmah%20forest.htm



North East Valley Division General Practice, Victoria, Australia, Disclaimer 
Level 1, Pathology Building, Repatriation Campus, A&RMC, Heidelberg West VIC 3081. .. map
Phone: 03 9496 4333, Fax: 03 9496 4349,  Email: nevdgp@nevdgp.org.au
Please note: NEVDGP does not provide an on-line consultation

Back to Disease index