History and distribution
- Map showing geographical distribution of the Zika virus (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – CDC)
- Countries and territories with confirmed cases of Zika virus (Pan American Health Organisation – PAHO)
The Zika virus was first detected in the Zika forest in Uganda (hence its name) in 1947. A more important outbreak was reported in 2007 in Micronesia and in French Polynesia in 2013. The virus has now reached Central and South America and is turning rapidly into an epidemic. Recently some cases have been confirmed in the Caribbean. We believe it likely the Zika virus will continue to spread.
Acute symptoms are vague and similar to many other flu-like illnesses:
- Muscle and joint pains
- Red eyes (conjunctivitis)
- Skin rash
- Gastro-intestinal pains
The Zika virus can co-circulate in areas where dengue and chikungunya are present. All these diseases have similar clinical symptoms, and are thus often difficult to distinguish.
The symptoms occur a few days and up to 12 days after infection and last for about a week. Usually they are mild and disappear spontaneously. In most patients the disease is asymptomatic but in rare cases neurological complications have been described.
There is no treatment or vaccine. Patients who develop flu-like symptoms after returning from a region affected by Zika, dengue or chikungunya are advised to consult a doctor. He/she can get further advice from a specialist at the Institute of Tropical Medicine. The diagnosis can be confirmed by the National Reference Centre for Arboviruses at the ITM.
There is no vaccine against Zika and we urge travellers to protect themselves during the day with mosquito repellents, long sleeves and pants.
Zika AND Pregnancy
In October 2015, the Brazilian health authorities noted an increase in the number of newborns with microcephaly (reduced head size) compared to the years prior to the emergency of the Zika virus in Brazil. It has become clear that the virus can be transmitted to the unborn child during pregnancy. There are some well-documented cases about microcephaly and other foetal abnormalities after the mother had Zika-like symptoms during her pregnancy. The virus was also detected in the amniotic fluid and in the tissues of newborns with birth defects of women who have had Zika. A link between Zika fever during pregnancy and poor outcomes for newborns is therefore reasonably likely. In accordance with the guidelines of the CDC, we issue the following travel alert:
Pregnant women – and women trying to get pregnant during their travels or immediately afterwards – are advised to postpone holiday travel to areas where a Zika outbreak is ongoing (South and Central America, the Caribbean). If a trip to these areas cannot be avoided, it’s best to consult a doctor first to discuss preventive measures. It is important that you inform your obstetrician or gynecologist upon your return about your stay in an area where the Zika virus is epidemic. We advise women wishing to become pregnant to wait at least 4 weeks after their return before trying to conceive.
The ITM will further update its travel advice in case of new developments related to the spread of the Zika virus. Travellers can check the latest recommendations on this website.