Chief Health Officer Dr John Gerrard (Photo: Qld Health)

February 12, 2024

Queensland Health has warned there is a heightened risk of Ross River virus infection after surveillance activities revealed a sharp rise in detections of mosquitoes carrying the virus.

Chief Health Officer Dr John Gerrard said there had been a very high number of Ross River virus detections in mosquitoes across nine local government areas, stretching from Mackay down to south-east Queensland in recent weeks.

“Queensland Health, together with local government partners, routinely collects mosquito samples and tests them for Ross River virus infection. This season, more than 700 mosquito trap collections have been tested for Ross River virus,” Dr Gerrard said.

“We have been notified of 31 positive mosquito traps across the State so far, which is more than the total we saw over the 2019-20 summer months when there was a significant Ross River virus outbreak. In 2020, 3381 cases of Ross River virus were recorded.

“It’s concerning we are seeing such a high number of Ross River virus detections in mosquito populations through our surveillance program this early in the typical season, especially over such a widespread area. This is an indicator of elevated virus activity.

“Typically, Ross River virus infection begins to rise with the onset of rain and warm temperatures in December before peaking in February and March. It is also typical to see a significant number of Ross River virus cases every three to four years, so we are on track for a spike in cases.

“Given high mosquito numbers combined with these latest surveillance results, we know there is a heightened risk of human exposure to mosquitoes carrying this virus right across Queensland.”

Dr Gerrard said it was critical for people to take measures to protect themselves from mosquito bites and mosquito-borne diseases.

“There’s no vaccine or specific antiviral treatment available for Ross River virus, so prevention is key. The most important measure you can do against mosquito-borne disease is to take steps to avoid getting bitten,” Dr Gerrard said.

“We know there’s a lot of mosquitoes around at the moment due to the hot and wet conditions. Remember that any mosquito could be carrying Ross River virus – the more you get bitten, the more likely you will be infected.

“Ross River virus can be found in more than 40 species of mosquitoes in Australia.

“If you’re enjoying the great outdoors this summer to play sport, go for bushwalks, catch up on gardening or even hosting a backyard barbecue, you need to be vigilant of mosquitoes.

“Biting can be experienced at any time of day, but some species are most active at dusk and dawn. It’s best to avoid outdoor activities when mosquitoes are most active.

“Measures to prevent mosquito bites include regularly applying insect repellent containing DEET, picardin or oil of lemon eucalyptus and wearing loose, light-coloured clothing to cover up arms, legs and feet.

“Around your home, you should empty containers holding water or remove standing water, wherever possible, at least weekly and ensure flyscreens are in good order so mosquitoes can’t enter your home easily.”

Symptoms of Ross River virus can include fever, swollen and painful joints and rash. Treatment is supportive and involves managing the symptoms that develop.

While most people recover in a few weeks, some experience joint pain and fatigue for months after infection.

The virus is spread from infected mosquitoes to humans, but it does not spread from person to person.

Mosquitoes get the virus from biting an infected animal. It is then spread to humans when they get bitten by an infected mosquito.

Ross River virus infections account for the largest number of human mosquito-borne disease notifications in Queensland.

In 2023, there were 699 cases of Ross River virus infection recorded across the State; in January this year, there were 64 cases reported.


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