Arboviral (Arthropod-borne Viral) Diseases

Last Reviewed: July 2017

What are arboviral diseases?

Arboviral disease is a general term used to describe infections caused by a group of viruses spread to people by the bite of infected arthropods (insects) such as mosquitoes and ticks. These infections usually occur during warm weather months, when mosquitoes and ticks are active. Examples include California encephalitis, Chikungunya, dengue, Eastern equine encephalitis, Powassan, St. Louis encephalitis, West Nile, Yellow Fever, and Zika. Other diseases spread by the bite of infected arthropods that are not viral infections, such as Lyme disease, which is a bacterial infection, and babesiosis, which is a parasitic infection, are not arboviruses.

Who gets arboviral infections?

Anyone can get an arboviral infection but young children and the elderly appear to be most affected. Young children may experience more severe illness with Eastern equine encephalitis and certain types of California encephalitis. People who travel to or reside in areas where certain arboviruses are commonly found are at increased risk of getting an arboviral infection. For example, Chikungunya is frequently found in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America, whereas Powassan virus is most frequently found in the northeastern and Great Lakes regions of the United States. Arboviruses found in New York State include West Nile virus, Eastern equine encephalitis virus, Jamestown Canyon virus, La Crosse virus, South River virus, Potosi virus, Cache Valley virus, Powassan, and Deer Tick viruses.

How are arboviral infections spread?

Infected mosquitoes are the most common type of arthropods that spread diseases. Fortunately, only some types of mosquitoes are able to spread disease and only a small number of those mosquitoes will actually carry a virus at any one time. Some arboviral infections, such as Powassan encephalitis, may be spread by the bite of infected ticks. Arboviral infections may also spread by blood transfusion, organ transplantation, sexual contact, and from mother to child during birth depending on the specific virus involved.

What are the signs and symptoms of arboviral infections?

Symptoms of arboviral infections can range from very mild to very severe. Most people infected experience no symptoms or mild symptoms of a slight fever, headache, muscle or joint pain, and/or a skin rash, which resolve with no serious health problems. Severe infections are marked by a rapid onset, headache, high fever, confusion, tremors, seizures, paralysis, coma, or death. Symptoms usually appear 3 to 14 days after a bite from an infected mosquito or tick but can vary depending on specific infection.

How are arboviral infections diagnosed?

Health care providers diagnose arboviral infections based on the patient's clinical symptoms and laboratory diagnosis made by testing blood and other body fluids, which show evidence of infection.

What is the treatment for an infection due to an arbovirus?

Health care providers will usually attempt to relieve the symptoms of the illness, but there are no specific treatments available for arboviral infections.

Does past infection with an arbovirus make a person immune?

Infection with an arbovirus may provide immunity to that specific virus and perhaps to related viruses.

How can arboviral infections be prevented?

Insect repellents can be effective at reducing bites from mosquitoes and ticks that can spread disease. If you decide to use a repellent, use only what and how much you need for your situation. More information on repellents can be found at Environmental Protection Agency - insect-repellents. Consider wearing long sleeves and tucking pants into socks and shirts into pants when outdoors, especially at dawn or dusk, the time of day when mosquitoes are most active. Wear light-colored clothes to spot ticks easily.

To reduce the mosquito population around your home and property, reduce or remove all standing water:

  • Dispose of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots or similar water-holding containers.
  • Remove and recycle all discarded tires on your property. Used tires are a significant mosquito-breeding site.
  • Drill holes in the bottoms of recycling containers that are kept outdoors.
  • Make sure roof gutters drain properly and clean clogged gutters in the spring and fall.
  • Remove leaf debris from yards and gardens.
  • Turn over wading pools and wheelbarrows when not in use.
  • Change the water in birdbaths twice weekly.
  • Clean vegetation and debris from edges of ponds
  • Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas, and hot tubs.
  • Drain water from pool covers.
  • Use landscaping to eliminate standing water that collects on your property.
  • Make sure window and door screens fit properly and are in good condition.