No cause for panic stations over SA Zika case, says expert

The visiting Colombian businessperson who was diagnosed with the Zika virus in South Africa last week is “completely well” and “poses no risk to anybody”, says Lucille Blumberg, the deputy director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

Blumberg says the man presented with a mild illness four days after his arrival in the country. After he underwent a number of tests, “Zika was confirmed as the cause of his illness”.

Zika 101

“We received the notification on Friday and conducted our confirmatory tests on Saturday morning,” she says. “He made an uneventful recovery and is completely well.”

Infection with the Zika virus causes “a very mild illness”, says Blumberg. Only one in four people infected with Zika will show symptoms, which include a fever, rash and muscle pain.

According to the World Health Organisation, the virus is mainly transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito [see Key institutes keep keen watch on Zika for Africa]. Blumberg says there have been confirmed cases of Zika being sexually transmitted, but this is rare.

“We’re not going to have local transmissions because of one incoming traveller with Zika. You’ll need multiple people with the virus in their blood and many mosquitoes around with the competent vectors to set off a local outbreak,” she says.

“We will see other travellers, either South Africans returning from areas where Zika is circulating or visitors from countries where there is a Zika outbreak. That’s not unexpected and it’s not really a problem.”

Is the Zika virus a threat to Africa?

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Ina Skosana
Ina Skosana was a health reporter at Bhekisisa, the Mail & Guardian’s centre for health journalism, from 2013 to 2017.

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