Victorians struck by the Ross River virus outbreak - including a doctor who says he was infected by a mosquito in Melbourne's northeast - have described its debilitating symptoms.
While authorities insist most people infected will temporarily experience mild symptoms, for some it has already been weeks of severe joint pain, swelling and fatigue and for as many as an estimated one in four, these symptoms could last a year or more.
Most of the 1012 people believed infected since January 1 were infected by mosquitoes in regional Victoria; and the Health Department maintains the only reports of mosquito-bite transmission within the city were six cases in Frankston and Casey in Melbourne's south.
But Brunswick GP Michael Levick, who is also on the board of the Australian Medical Association (Victoria), is confident he was infected in mid-January near the border of Eltham and Lower Plenty, in the northeast of Melbourne, which he said was reported to authorities last week.
"It was almost certainly at home," he said. "I haven't been anywhere but there or Brunswick and in Brunswick I'm inside all the time.
"Really all it takes is one person who's been to Gippsland or Anglesea... to come back into the city, a mossie bites them, the mossie goes off and bites a kangaroo and then it spreads from there.
"I wasn't able to sleep at night because my arm was going numb and then aching, then my feet, knees, particularly my right knee, my hands, neck, were all aching. My body and brain are both going at about half pace."
A Health Department spokesman said: "There appears to be a risk for Ross River virus infection across Victoria, although fortunately the risk in metropolitan Melbourne is very low."
Brandon Shaw, 43, who lives near Albury-Wodonga, thought he had sprained his knee when he awoke with swelling on New Year's Day. Then came the pain, soon his whole body was aching and he was completely drained of energy.
About two weeks ago when the pain reached his other leg, making it too difficult to walk, he had to stop work. "I can sort of stagger around a bit but that's really it at the moment," Mr Shaw said.
"My doctor believes I am presenting a little more severe than most, this I hope, as I would not like to see anybody else go through this."
North Melbourne woman Rosa Zull, 56, believes she was bitten over Christmas while taking an after-dinner walk in Angelsea, about 420km from where Mr Shaw was infected.
Previously a regular at the gym, Ms Zull said Ross River fever makes her feel 30 years older, and get so tired, "I think, 'how am I going to get through this day'?"
When she stopped taking her now daily regime of six powerful anti-inflammatory tablets, "I couldn't even open my toothpaste cap because my wrists were so sore," she said.
"Even getting something out of my pocket, taking a cardigan off, or bending down to put my socks on, it's just so painful."
There is no cure, other than drugs for pain and fever, nor a licensed vaccine for the virus.
John Fazakerley, professor of virology at the University of Melbourne's Doherty Institute, said the Queensland University of Technology and Austrian company Baxter Bioscience had taken a vaccine through phase three clinical trials but often when there were a relatively small number of cases of a disease, a vaccine was deemed to be commercially non viable.
Professor John Aaskov, who designed the vaccine , said it was shown to be safe and effective in the trials. But he believes the millions of dollars required for licensing it and undertaking post market studies are preventing it from becoming available.
He said US company Nanotherapeutics, which bought Baxter's vaccine division, was unlikely to spend the money without co-funding.
Taking steps to prevent mosquito bites remains the best defence, which includes covering up with loose-fitting clothing, using insect repellent on exposed skin and not leaving stagnant water around the home.
More information is available at www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/campaigns/beat-the-bite
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