CANBERRA, Feb. 23 (Xinhua) -- Australia's Ross River mosquito-borne virus has the potential to one day become a global epidemic, Australian researchers have admitted.
The Ross River virus (RRV) is Australia's most common mosquito-borne disease and was reported in higher than normal numbers in 2016 due to unseasonably wet weather during the summer months.
The disease was previously thought to have been endemic to Australia and northern neighbor, Papua New Guinea (PNG), however Australian researchers believe the disease may have spread overseas, in a similar fashion to that of the Zika virus.
The University of Adelaide's Professor Philip Weinstein said the Ross River virus was slowly beginning to materialize further abroad, with some cases being reported in nations in the South Pacific.
"It's really only (become apparent) in the last few years, when tourists returning to their home countries were diagnosed with Ross River virus after travelling in the Pacific," Weinstein told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Wednesday night.
"They'd never been to Australia or New Guinea. That's when the little alarm bells started ringing that this was perhaps circulating outside Australia."
Weinstein said it was previously thought the virus could only be transmitted through affected marsupials, keeping it endemic to Australia and PNG, however the new discovery has scientists worried it may be able to "sustain itself anywhere in the world."
"That certainly means that it could be another global outbreak like Zika or Chikungunya a few years before that, another mosquito-borne virus that suddenly went global," he said.
"This has probably been chugging along quietly on different Pacific islands for a number of years, but because the symptoms are so general it's not been identified as a Ross River Virus problem."
More than 3,500 Australians were affected by the virus in 2016, with symptoms including swollen joints, fever, extreme fatigue and debilitating pain. It is not considered a deadly virus.