Zika Virus Factsheet


By Michelle Mukonyora

Zika virus disease

The first reported outbreak of Zika virus disease was in the Zika Forest of Uganda, hence its name. Previously, other outbreaks have occurred in parts of Africa, the Pacific Islands and Southeast Asia. Currently, the disease is active in the Americas, the Pacific Islands (Samoa) and parts of Africa (Cape Verde) (See Figure 1). The disease is currently spreading.

Figure 1: Countries and territories with active Zika virus transmission
Image from the Center for Disease Control website (http://www.cdc.gov/zika/)

What is Zika virus?

The Zika virus causes Zika virus disease, and it belongs to the family Flaviviridae, to which dengue, Yellow Fever and West Nile viruses also belong.

What are the symptoms and effects of Zika?

Symptoms of Zika virus disease typically appear one week after infection in only 20% of infected people. These symptoms include fever, muscle and joint pain, headache, nausea, conjunctivitis (red eyes) and rash. The disease is typically mild and symptoms persist up to a week.

Zika virus disease can however be lethal, as 46 deaths have been recorded in 2016. It has also been associated with an increase in babies born with microcephaly, which is an abnormally small head in relation to the body (See Figure 2). How exactly the Zika virus causes this has not yet been determined as microcephaly can be also caused by other factors and infections.

It should be noted that Zika virus disease symptoms are similar to those caused by dengue or Chikungunya.

Figure 2: Illustration of baby with microcephaly
Image from the Center for Disease Control website (http://www.cdc.gov/zika/)

How is Zika virus disease transmitted?

Zika virus disease is transmitted between people by Aedes mosquitos, namely Aedis aegyptiA. albipictus and possibly A. hensilii. Cases of sexual transmission have been reported. Mother to child transmission also takes place during pregnancy or birth, but the frequency is unknown.

How does one avoid contracting Zika virus disease?

Since there is no vaccine for Zika virus disease, people in areas where the disease is prevalent should avoid getting bitten by mosquitos. This can be done by wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants; wearing clothes treated with permethrin; using insect repellents and mosquito nets; staying in rooms with air conditioning or window/door screens. It is also advises to use condoms when having sex with partners who have been to infected areas.

Pregnant women should avoid travelling to areas where there are Zika virus disease outbreaks. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is still developing guidelines for babies born with the disease.

What is the treatment for Zika virus disease?

There are currently no treatments and vaccines for Zika virus disease. Infected people are treated symptomatically. Bed rest; plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and medicine such as acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain are prescribed. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as aspirin must be avoided.


  1. Center for Disease Control, (Accessed 1 February 2016), (http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html).
  2. Unwin, V. (2016). Mysterious Zika virus sweeps over Latin America and beyond. [Blog] BugBitten (Biomed Central). Available at (http://blogs.biomedcentral.com/bugbitten/2016/01/29/mysterious-zika-virus-sweeps-latin-america-beyond/).