Sciensano is responsible for the epidemiological surveillance of Zika in humans in Belgium. As well as the monitoring of exotic mosquitoes of the Aedes genus through the MEMO+ project.
Zika is an infectious disease transmitted by mosquitoes and caused by the Zika virus. The virus originated in Africa and has since spread to Southeast Asia and some Pacific islands. In May 2015, a major epidemic began in Brazil and the Zika virus has spread across the American continent. With the tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) now established in southern Europe, small outbreaks of Zika do occur there (e.g. in France). In Belgium, only imported cases are diagnosed in travellers from regions where the virus circulates.
The Zika virus is transmitted by the tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) and by the mosquito that also transmits yellow fever (Aedes aegypti). Apart from mosquito bites, the virus can also be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy, through blood transfusions and through sexual contact (the virus can persist in semen).
- Around 1 in 4 or 5 people infected with the Zika virus develops symptoms, after an incubation period of 3 to 12 days.
- Symptoms are usually mild and consist of (mild) fever, headache, a burning sensation or numbness in the hands or feet, muscle and joint pain, skin rashes and eye disorders. Gastro-intestinal problems are also sometimes observed. Symptoms usually disappear within a few days to a week.
- In people with a chronic illness or reduced immunity, the symptoms may be more severe. An infection during pregnancy can lead to birth defects in the baby (including microcephaly, i.e. an abnormally small skull) or miscarriage. Another possible complication of Zika is the Guillain-Barré syndrome (muscle weakness).
Diagnosis and treatment
- If the doctor suspects Zika, the diagnosis can be established by way of a blood test. Depending on the stage of the disease, different tests can be used, such as a PCR test or serology.
- There is no specific treatment for Zika. Mild symptoms are treated symptomatically with painkillers. Given the potential complications, a pregnant woman who thinks she has Zika should contact a doctor.
There is no vaccine against the Zika virus. Prevention is done by avoiding mosquito bites and using a condom during sexual contact. The use of a condom by travellers returning from an area where Zika is present is particularly important if the sexual partner is pregnant and until the end of the pregnancy.