Tackling emerging problems with One Health approaches: Zika virus


This post is guest written by our dedicated One Health campaign volunteers, Teja Sirec and Tomasz Benedyk.

One Health recognizes that the health of people, animals and their environments are closely connected. This is most obvious when we look at recent threats to global human health, such as the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa and the spread of Zika virus. Understanding the interacting factors that cause such outbreaks is crucial to safeguard the future of global health.

In this month’s post, we focus on the Zika virus. First isolated in 1947 in the Zika forest of Uganda, the virus is normally associated with a narrow equatorial belt from Africa to Asia. However, in 2007 the virus vastly expanded its territory across the Pacific Ocean to both Americas. Even though the infection doesn’t usually cause serious symptoms to adults, it does impose a large risk of microcephaly in fetuses when transmitted from infected mothers. In rare cases it may trigger the Guillain-Barré syndrome in adults.

This briefing aims to keep you informed about some of the key terms, aspects and current One Health measures in tackling the Zika virus. Every new strategy and every piece of knowledge we uncover makes us stronger at tackling future outbreaks of new infectious agents and diseases.

Zika virus
  • Member of the virus family, Flaviviridae: a family of viruses which are transmitted by arthropods, such as mosquitoes or ticks
  • Increases risk of microcephaly in the fetus: a congenital condition related to incomplete brain development that manifests in an abnormal smallness of the head
  • Can trigger Guillain-Barré syndrome in adults: an acute disorder of the peripheral nervous system resulting in weakness and often paralysis of the limbs
How Zika can be transmitted
  • Arthropod-transmission: mosquitoes from the Aedes family are the primary cause of Zika virus transmission to humans. The same vectors are responsible for spreading dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever
  • Sexual-transmission: sexual intercourse is the second major way for the virus transmission. It’s of particular importance due to its association with fetal microcephaly
One Health approaches to tackle the problem
  • Mosquito control: much research effort is being invested in eliminating the vector-properties of mosquitoes using chemical compounds and genetic manipulations.
  • Diagnostic tests: simpler and more available tests would allow a better surveillance over new Zika cases and the geographical distribution of the virus
  • Public campaigns: raising awareness among key high-risk groups, such as sexually-active people and pregnant women
  • Medical research: to improve understanding of the association between Zika infection, fetal microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome in adults.

If you are interested in learning more about new developments in the Zika virus, take a look in the FEMS journals, keep up-to-date in our One Health campaign and read cutting edge perspectives from leaders in the field in our One Health Thematic Issue

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