Background: Unusually high tides along the south-west coast of Western Australia (WA) during the spring and summer of 1988-89 provided ideal breeding conditions for mosquito vectors of Ross River virus (RRV). This was followed by the biggest outbreak of RRV infection ever documented in WA (330 notified cases).
Objectives: To describe the nature and duration of symptoms of RRV infection in WA, and associated functional disability; to determine the perceived effectiveness of treatments; to determine the usefulness of available information on RRV infection.
Study design: A retrospective study of all cases of RRV infection reported from South West WA during the 1988-89 outbreak, using a self-administered patient questionnaire.
Results: The most common symptoms were arthralgia, tiredness and lethargy, and joint stiffness and swelling. In patients with joint manifestations, the knees, wrists and ankles were almost always affected. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents, rest, simple analgesics and hydrotherapy were subjectively the most helpful treatments. Only 27% of patients had recovered completely within 6 months of onset of symptoms. Three years after the outbreak, up to 57% still experienced at least intermittent joint symptoms. Less than one-third of people reported that the available information adequately explained the consequences of RRV infection.
Conclusions: Compared with patients elsewhere in Australia, people infected with RRV in the South West of WA experience a slightly different spectrum of clinical symptoms, with a longer period of disability. This may be related to the presence of a different topotype of the virus to that found elsewhere in Australia. Better information for doctors and patients on the likely course of the illness is needed. Future studies should examine the economic cost associated with RRV infection, and evaluate treatments to shorten the period of disability.