According to the World Health Organization ([WHO], 2016), the appearance of the Zika virus in French Polynesia occurred between the years 2013 and 2014 and affected an estimated 32,000 individuals. Transmitted through the bite of an Aedes spp. mosquito and various non-vector means, the Zika virus can be asymptomatic or cause mild to severe neurological conditions and birth defect in women who are pregnant. In the event of infection, symptom management is the only form of treatment since a vaccine does not exist. Ultimately, the best form of treatment is to take steps to protect oneself and prevent the transmission of the virus entirely (Center for Disease Control [CDC], 2018).
As mentioned previously, the Zika outbreak within French Polynesia affected an estimated 32,000 people during the years of 2013 and 2014. The rapid and explosive occurrence of the virus prompted the intervention of the Center for Disease Control ([CDC], 2017) and a blood study was performed to determine its overall prevalence within the sampled areas (CDC, 2017). Blood samples were collected from 196 individuals from the largest cities of the five archipelagos that make up French Polynesia (Society, Tuamotu, Marquesas, Gambier, and Australs) (Figure1) (CDC, 2017). Through the utilization of “recombinant antigen-based indirect ELISA to detect Zika virus IgG in blood samples,” it was found that of the 196 samples that were collected from the general population, 80% of the samples were positive for Zika virus (CDC, 2017). Additionally, following the discovery of high viral prevalence among the general population, doctors in Tahiti (part of the Society Islands archipelago) began observing an increase in cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome (Beaubien, 2016). However, the island was also suffering a concurrent outbreak of dengue which shares the same vector as the Zika virus—the Aedes spp. mosquito. That being said, the relation between Guillain-Barré syndrome and the Zika infection remains suggestive but unconfirmed (CDC, 2016).
Regarding transmission, the Zika virus (which resides within the family Flaviviridae and genus Flavivirus) is an arthropod-borne pathogen and humans contract said virus through the bite of an Aedes spp. mosquito (Ae. aegypti and Ae. albopictus) (CDC, 2018). The Aedes spp. of mosquito bite whether it is day or night and tend to lay their eggs near stagnate water sources such as animal water bowls, buckets, flower pots, etc. According to the Center for Disease Control (2018), the mosquitos themselves become infected with the virus if they bite a host that is already infected. Infected mosquitos are then capable of infecting other uninfected individuals by biting and taking a blood meal (CDC, 2018).
Although, it has also been reported by the CDC (2017) that transmission without vectors can occur and includes transmission through sexual intercourse, the receipt of blood transfusions, and passage from mother to fetus. During sexual intercourse, the Zika virus is capable of being transmitted via semen and vaginal fluid. As stated by the CDC (2018), “We known that Zika can remain in semen longer than in other body fluids including vaginal fluids, urine, and blood.” As for blood transfusions, it was reported during the French Polynesian outbreak of Zika that 2.8% of the individuals that donated blood tested positive for Zika. The virus has also been found within donated blood in previous outbreaks of Zika as well (CDC, 2018). Furthermore, Zika is capable of being transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy or near the time of birth and is a cause of microcephaly and various other severe brain defects. There have also been reports of infants contracting the virus via the mother’s breast milk (CDC, 2018).
As for treatment, since there is not a vaccine available for the virus, the only option is to treat the various symptoms and attempt to alleviate any discomfort the infected individual may be experiencing. During the French Polynesian outbreak, ndividuals infected with the Zika virus tend to be asymptomatic or display mild symptoms such as rash, fever, joint pain, headache, and inflammation of the conjunctiva; however, as mentioned previously, the presence of certain neurological conditions have been observed including “Guillain-Barré syndrome in adults and microcephaly in fetuses and newborns” (CDC, 2017). However, there are steps that can be taken to aid in the prevention of Zika transmission including the use of insect repellent to deter mosquitos, use condoms (both male and female condoms) to prevent sexual transmission, and, if pregnant and travelling, research areas that may be experiencing Zika outbreaks (CDC, 2018).
In conclusion, the Zika virus poses the largest threat to pregnant women and their unborn children. Since a vaccine for the Zika virus does not exist, it is up to the individual (especially pregnant women) to take every precaution necessary to ensure that he or she does not contract the virus.
- Beaubien, J. (2016, February 09). Zika In French Polynesia: It Struck Hard In 2013, Then Disappeared. Retrieved November 8, 2018, from https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/02/09/466152313/zika-in-french-polynesia-it-struck-hard-in-2013-then-disappeared
- Center for Disease Control. (2018, June 01). Zika Virus. Retrieved November 8, 2018, from https://www.cdc.gov/zika/about/index.html
- Center for Disease Control. (2017, March 16). Zika Virus Seroprevalence, French Polynesia, 2014–2015 – Volume 23, Number 4-April 2017 – Emerging Infectious Diseases journal – CDC. Retrieved November 8, 2018, from https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/23/4/16-1549_article
- World Health Organization. (2016, June 13). One year into the Zika outbreak: How an obscure disease became a global health emergency. Retrieved November 8, 2018, from http://www.who.int/emergencies/zika-virus/articles/one-year-outbreak/en/index1.html
- World Health Organization. (2016, May 23). Zika: The origin and spread of a mosquito-borne virus. (2016, May 23). Retrieved November 8, 2018, from http://www.who.int/bulletin/online_first/16-171082/en/