What is the Zika virus?

What is the Zika virus?

The Zika virus (ZIKV) was first detected in East Africa and transmitted by mosquitoes. While Zika infection is primarily harmless to healthy adults and usually causes no or only mild symptoms, infection during pregnancy can cause severe damage to the fetus.

transmission by mosquitoes

The yellow fever mosquito, also known as the  Egyptian tiger mosquito (Aedes aegypti), mainly transmits the virus in tropical and subtropical countries. There is also the assumption that other mosquito species of the genus Aedes, such as the Asian tiger mosquito, can infect humans with the virus.

Isolated cases of sexual transmission of the Zika virus or infection during childbirth (from mother to child) have also been described. The disease also developed as a result of blood transfusions. Whether an infection through urine or saliva is possible is not yet known.


Symptoms of Zika infection

Infection with the Zika virus causes symptoms similar to those of other mosquito-borne diseases, such as dengue fever. In comparison, however, Zika infections are significantly milder. Signs include:

  • Fever (hence the name “Zika fever”)
  • nodular-blotchy rash
  • joint pain
  • conjunctivitis _
  • more rarely: muscle pain and headache as well as vomiting

The incubation period, i.e. the time from infection with the virus until the symptoms appear, is usually three to twelve days. The symptoms usually last a few days to a week.

Around four out of five infected people are believed to have no symptoms at all. The infection usually heals without further consequences.

Treatment of Zika infection

Since there is currently no specific therapy for the Zika virus, only the symptoms are treated. Painkillers and antipyretics are usually given. Rest and drinking adequate amounts of fluids are also recommended.


Causes of secondary diseases?

The Zika virus is usually not dangerous for a healthy adult. However, it is considered likely that the virus can trigger Guillain-Barré syndrome, a nerve disease that causes paralysis.

In addition, there are speculations about a connection with the development of other secondary diseases, such as spinal cord or meningitis, which have been observed in individual cases after a Zika infection.

Zika infection in pregnancy

It has been proven that Zika infection during the first trimester of pregnancy can cause microcephaly, a brain malformation, in the unborn baby.

An increasing number of cases of microcephaly in newborns could be observed in the risk areas. However, it is still unclear how often infection with the virus results in microcephaly in babies.

Sick children are born with significantly smaller heads and a mostly underdeveloped brain.

protection against infection

There is currently no vaccination against the Zika virus. Avoiding risk regions and general methods to ward off mosquitoes are therefore recommended as a protective measure – especially for pregnant women.

Since sexual transmission is probably also possible, the use of condoms is also recommended.

Anyone who has survived a Zika infection is considered immune to re-infection with the virus.


Origin and spread of the Zika virus

The virus was first isolated from a rhesus monkey in the Zika Forest in Uganda in 1947, giving it its name. There are two lineages of the Zika virus: the African lineage and the Asian lineage. The virus belongs to the Flavivirus genus, which includes viruses transmitted by ticks or mosquitoes. These include the viruses that cause yellow feverTBE and dengue fever.

The Zika virus was first detected in humans in 1952 Uganda and Tanzania. Until 2007, humans were only infected in Africa and Southeast Asia. Since the beginning of 2015, the virus has been observed in Central and South America, especially in Brazil and Colombia.

The Zika virus also spread to other areas through travellers, which has now resulted in cases of Zika fever among returning travellers in numerous countries. However, there are no known cases of transmission in Germany.

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