Zika in the Americas – Virus experts collaborate to study an international health crisis

Zika was first isolated in Uganda in 1947. For decades Zika infections in humans were sporadic. Perhaps cases of Zika went underreported, since its symptoms were similar to other fever-causing diseases and most cases are asymptomatic.

By the 1980s, Zika had spread beyond Africa and had become endemic, or habitually present, in Asia. Many individuals living in these regions may be immune to the virus.

The first reported Zika outbreak outside of Africa and Asia occurred in the Pacific, in Micronesia, in 2007. To our knowledge there were no associations with microcephaly or Guillain-Barre reported at the time.

Zika transmission in the Pacific wasn’t reported again until 2013, when French Polynesia experienced an explosive outbreak. In 2014 further outbreaks were reported in New Caledonia, Easter Island and the Cook Islands. When French Polynesia experienced another outbreak in 2014, there were reports of Zika being transmitted to babies, most likely in utero, and complications associated with Guillian-Barre in adults.

By early 2015 the virus had spread to the Americas, and the first confirmed case of locally acquired Zika in the region was confirmed in May 2015 in Brazil.

Zika in the Americas tshirts

Zika in the Americas – T-shirts were printed for collaborating scientists.

This design depicts the spread of mosquito-transmitted Zika virus, as it traveled throughout 48 countries and territories in the Western hemisphere from 2015 to present day. A female mosquito (only females bite) is shown carrying a Zika virus particle. The virus spread explosively throughout the Americas by the bite of infected mosquitoes to people who had never been exposed.

Zika in the Americas became the visual identity for an international group of scientists that studied the spread of the virus throughout the Americas. Their findings were posted to bioRxiv and published co-currently as 3 separate articles in 2017 in the journal Nature.