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What Is the Zika Virus?


Zika was once an obscure virus that not many knew about, and not much research was done on it. However, it erupted onto the world stage in late-2015 and panicked the world with its spread in South America, with the most abundant presence of the virus in the continent being in Brazil.

Zika Virus

The Zika virus belongs to the virus family Flaviviridae and the Flavivirus genus. Thus, it is related to the dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, and West Nile viruses since they all share the same family and genus. It is most closely related to the Spondweni virus and is one of the two known viruses in the Spondweni virus clade.

It is an arbovirus – viruses that use mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas as their vectors – with its vector being the mosquitoes of Aedes genus such as Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus.

Zika Virus Throughout Time

The Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 in the Zika Forest of Uganda. It was first found isolated from a rhesus macaque monkey by scientists surveying for yellow fever. The first evidence of human infection was found in 1952 in Uganda and Nigeria. A study in India during the same year suggested that the virus had been long spread in human populations. The first isolation of the virus from a human was published in 1954 from the blood of a 10-year-old Nigerian girl.

From 1951 to 1983, the virus spread across other countries in equatorial Africa, which includes Egypt, Gabon, and Sierra Leone, and Southern parts of Asia that comprise of India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Pakistan.

The first outbreak outside Africa and Asia was found on the Island of Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia in 2007. The symptoms noticed were rash, conjunctivitis, and arthralgia. It was initially thought to be dengue or chikungunya. The second outbreak occurred during 2013-2014 in Oceania on the islands of French Polynesia, Easter Island, the Cook Islands and New Caledonia.

The most recent and prevalent outbreak began in April 2015 in Brazil and since then, has spread to other countries in South America, Central America, North America and the Caribbean. It is estimated that 1.5 million people have been infected by Zika in Brazil.

Transmission of the Virus

The reasons for the recent pandemic in the Americas are unknown, but it is said that the virus arrived in Brazil during the grand FIFA World Cup 2014 event either through an infected traveler or through a mosquito from elsewhere carrying the Zika virus.

Being an arbovirus, its main source of transmission is through mosquito bites, but there are other modes of transmission as well. Here are all the recognized ways of Zika virus transmission.


Zika virus is primarily transmitted through the bite of an infected female Aedes mosquito, Aedes aegypti being the most prominent. These are mostly active during daytime but can peak in the early morning or evenings as well. They are the same kind of mosquitoes that spread dengue and yellow fever viruses. The females need to feed on blood in order to lay eggs.

These notorious species of mosquitoes are known to prefer biting humans over other creatures and, therefore, live indoors and outdoors near people. They lay their eggs on still water like in buckets, bowls and even flower pots or vases.

The mosquitoes can acquire the virus from biting an infected person and the virus can then be transmitted to another person bitten by the same mosquito.

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Sexual Transmission

Zika can also be transmitted through sexual interaction and fluids from an infected person to their sexual partner. The case also stands for those who have acquired the virus but do not develop any symptoms.

CDC states that Zika can be transmitted from an infected person before their symptoms, while they have symptoms, or after their symptoms are over. Studies are being carried out over the life of the virus in seminal and vaginal fluids, but there are no certain results. However, it is known that the virus can survive longer in the semen than any other body fluid.


An infected mother can pass the virus to her fetus through the amniotic fluid.

Blood Transfusion

There have been two cases of virus transmission through blood transfusion since the pandemic began and both cases are from Brazil.

Symptoms and Risks

Many people with the virus might not have any symptoms or might develop some mild symptoms such as a mild fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis, muscle pain and headache. These symptoms can last from a few days to a week.

However, it can be risky for some people as well. It is a scientific consensus that the Zika virus during pregnancy can cause microcephaly and other fetal defects in the newborn.

Moreover, the rare disease Guillain-Barre syndrome has increased in areas with Zika and scientific consensus suggests that Zika can increase the chances of acquiring the syndrome.

Prevention and WHO Recommendations

Researchers are over the task of developing a Zika vaccine, but there is no such treatment available at the moment. However, the Zika virus can be prevented.

  • Prevention against mosquito bites stands as the priority. It is recommended to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Use of EPA-registered insect repellents which contain any one of DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 is encouraged.
  • Avoid travelling to areas with active Zika transmission.
  • WHO recommends using contraceptive methods of sexual intercourse or abstinence from sex in Zika-active regions. For those who travelled from a Zika-active area, they should abstain from sex for a period of 6 months after their return or use contraceptive methods to prevent transmission.
  • Those who develop Zika symptoms should rest and take in enough fluids to prevent dehydration.



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