Arborvirus FAQs

Arborvirus FAQs

Find out more about arbovirus infection by reading these questions and answers.

1. Question: What is an arbovirus?
An arbovirus is a virus that is carried and transmitted by an arthropod such as a mosquito, spider, tick, mite, millipede or sandfly.

2. Question: How many different arboviruses are there?
Currently about 100 arboviruses that may infect humans have been identified. There may be many more that we are not aware of yet.

3. Question: How is an arbovirus infection transmitted?
An arbovirus lives inside a host such as a bird or monkey. An arthropod (eg a tick, mosquito or sandfly) feeds on the host and now carries the virus, thus becoming the vector. This vector transfers the virus to other organisms by feeding on their blood. In turn the newly infected organism now becomes a host for the virus … and thus the cycle continues.

4. Question: What causes an arbovirus infection in humans?
Just as the arbovirus is transmitted to new hosts (see Question 3), the virus is transmitted to a human when the arthropod bites or feeds on him or her. The virus multiplies in the human body and the person becomes ill.

5. Question: Who can get an arbovirus infection?
Anyone who’s been bitten by an arthropod that is a vector, that is, a carrier of the virus, can get an arbovirus infection. Young children and the elderly usually are more susceptible and become very ill.

6. Question: What are the symptoms of an arbovirus infection?
The symptoms range from short-lived, slight fevers to serious viral fevers with bleeding and death. The most common symptoms of infection are fever, headache, rash and feeling unwell.

7. Question: What should you do if you suspect that you’ve contracted an arbovirus infection?
Symptoms generally occur within three to five but in some cases up to 15 days after exposure to the virus. Consult a doctor or clinic immediately and tell the person of your concern. The doctor will send a sample of your blood to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in Gauteng to be tested. The health professional will also start treatment to alleviate your symptoms while waiting for the results.

8. Question: What is the treatment for an arbovirus infection?
Currently there is no specific treatment available for arbovirus infections. Treatment focusses on alleviating the symptoms while the immune system of an infected person fights the illness.

9. Question: Can an arbovirus infection be prevented?
Prevention of arbovirus infection includes the eradication of arboviruses through environmental eradication programmes often run by governments or NGOs. Citizens must also prevent being bitten by vectors by:

  • Wearing clothing with long sleeves and covering your ankles – especially at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Applying insect repellents directly to the skin.
  • Using long-lasting insecticide sprays inside homes and buildings.
  • Using mosquito netting over the beds – they can also be soaked in certain types of insecticide.
  • Treating blankets and even clothing with insect repellents.
  • Placing wire or gauze screens on all doors and windows.
  • Keeping a fan on in the room during the night – the current seems to ward off the mosquitoes.
  • Spending evenings indoors rather than outdoors – you are much less likely to get bitten by mosquitoes.
  • Getting rid of discarded tires, cans or plastic containers left outside that may contain standing water.
  • Turning over plastic wading pools and wheel barrows when not in use so that the water cannot gather in them
  • Regularly draining standing water from your pool or hot tub cover.
  • Replacing the water in bird baths, pet dishes and wading pools every three to four days.
  • Keeping drains, ditches and culverts clean of trash and weeds so water will drain properly.
  • Cleaning the gutters to ensure they drain properly
  • Where appropriate, getting a vaccine before visiting an area where there is an arbovirus outbreak, for example of yellow fever.

10. Question: Can you become immune to an arbovirus infection?
Yes. After an arbovirus infection, you can be immune to that specific virus. It is also thought that you may even become immune to other related arboviruses.

Prinsloo, B. Arboviral diseases in southern Africa. SA Fam Pract 2006:48(8).
Retrieved from
Rautenbach, PGD. Mosquito-borne viral infections in southern Africa: a public health perspective. Retrieved from ttp://