The recent outbreak of the Zika virus (ZIKV) in Brazil and in at least 29 other countries and territories is a stark reminder of the risks associated with new, emerging and reemerging infectious diseases.
This article is intended to provide essential background information on the Zika virus in order to assist insurers’ understanding and risk assessment of the situation. Insurers must continually stay abreast of these risks and rapidly assess the potential impact on morbidity and mortality – often with only preliminary scientific or actuarial data.
The Zika virus was initially isolated in 1947 in the Zika Forest of Uganda and the first human case identified in Nigeria in 1954. A member of the Flaviviridae family of viruses, the Zika virus is related to the category of viruses that include those known to cause yellow fever, dengue, Japanese encephalitis and West Nile disease. It is transmitted to humans primarily by at least one species of Aedes mosquito, which inhabits large portions of the world and is known to bite aggressively in daytime. Transmission has also been documented through blood products and sexual contact.For half a century, Zika was known to cause only mild, sporadic human outbreaks, which only occurred in Africa and Asia. However, in 2007, a Zika epidemic occurred in Yap Island, Micronesia, which was followed in 2013 by a large Zika epidemic in French Polynesia.
Then, in early 2015, patients in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, on Brazil’s easternmost tip, began to present with symptoms of a dengue-like syndrome. However, these individuals tested negative for dengue and for Chikungunya as well. Further analysis revealed the presence of Zika virus RNA, specifically of the Asian subtype.
It has been speculated that the Zika virus arrived in Brazil from attendees of the World Cup in 2014; however, genetic testing of the virus in Brazil has shown that it may have come from French Polynesia during the August 2014 Va’a World Sprint Championships, the annual Polynesian canoe race that was hosted by Brazil that year.
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