The Zika outbreak of the 21st century.J Autoimmun 2016; 68:1-13JA
The Zika virus outbreak has captivated the attention of the global audience and information has spread rapidly and wildly through the internet and other media channels. This virus was first identified in 1947, when it was isolated from a sentinel rhesus monkey placed by British scientists working at the Yellow Fever Research Laboratory located in the Zika forest area of Uganda, hence its name, and is transmitted primarily by the mosquito vector, Aedes aegypti. The fact that the rhesus macaque is an Asian species being placed in an African forest brings to mind the possibility of rapid adaptation of the virus from an African to Asian species, an issue that has not been considered. Whether such adaptation has played any role in acquiring pathogenicity due to cross species transmission remains to be identified. The first human infection was described in Nigeria in 1954, with only scattered reports of about a dozen human infections identified over a 50-year period. It was not until 2007 that Zika virus raised its ugly head with infections noted in three-quarters of the population on the tiny island of Yap located between the Philippines and Papua New Guinea in the western Pacific Ocean, followed by a major outbreak in French Polynesia in 2013. The virus remained confined to a narrow equatorial band in Africa and Asia until 2014 when it began to spread eastward, first toward Oceania and then to South America. Since then, millions of infected individuals have been identified in Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, including 25 additional countries in the Americas. While the symptoms associated with Zika virus infection are generally mild, consisting of fever, maculopapular rash, arthralgia and conjunctivitis, there have been reports of more severe reactions that are associated with neurological complications. In pregnant women, fetal neurological complications include brain damage and microcephaly, while in adults there have been several cases of virus-associated Guillain-Barre syndrome. The virus was until recently believed to only be transmitted via mosquitoes. But when the Zika virus was isolated from the semen specimens from a patient in Texas, this provided the basis for the recent report of possible sexual transmission of the Zika virus. Due to the neurological complications, various vectors for infection as well as the rapid spread throughout the globe, it has prompted the World Health Organization to issue a global health emergency. Various governmental organizations have recommended that pregnant women do not travel to countries where the virus is epidemic, and within the countries affected by the virus, recommendations were provided for women of childbearing age to delay pregnancy. The overall public health impact of these above findings highlights the need for a rapid but specific diagnostic test for blood banks worldwide to identify those infected and for the counseling of women who are pregnant or contemplating pregnancy. As of this date, there are neither commercially licensed diagnostic tests nor a vaccine. Because cross-reactivity of the Zika virus with dengue and Chikungunya virus is common, it may pose difficulty in being able to quickly develop such tests and vaccines. So far the most effective public health measures include controlling the mosquito populations via insecticides and preventing humans from direct exposure to mosquitoes.