Clinical aspects of Zika virus

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Purpose of review

Zika virus (ZIKV) is a mosquito-borne flavivirus that has caused a sudden and explosive outbreak in South America and the Caribbean in the last year, and has been declared a public health emergency by the WHO. As ZIKV afflicts previously naive populations, more severe clinical presentations and sequelae have been observed. A specific emphasis has been placed on the neurological effects in infants resulting from viral exposure in utero.

Recent findings

Acute onset of ZIKV disease is seen in approximately 20% of cases, whereas most individuals (80%) exposed are asymptomatic. Presentation of illness is typically mild, with disease spectrum ranging from arthralgia and rash to encephalitis, myelitis, and Guillain–Barré syndrome. Infants have been uniquely impacted by the current outbreak with significant congenital exposure resulting in permanent neurological defects and developmental complications.


The current ZIKV outbreak has illustrated the emergent capabilities of mosquito-borne viruses and the teratogenic nature of ZIKV. Causality and risk factors associated with severe manifestations, as well as chronic sequelae, have yet to be determined. Extensive research is required to understand the molecular mechanisms of infection, develop improved assays for differential diagnosis, and improve overall knowledge of the spectrum of ZIKV disease in order to develop modes of prevention and treatment.

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