eLife digest | Mapping global environmental suitability for Zika virus

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Mapping global environmental suitability for Zika virus

eLife digest

Affiliation details

University of Oxford, United Kingdom; University of Washington, United States; University of Melbourne, United Kingdom; University of Southampton, United Kingdom; Harvard Medical School, United Kingdom; University of Toronto, Canada; St Michael's Hospital, Canada; Flowminder Foundation, Sweden; Heidelberg University Hospital, Germany; Heidelberg partner site, Germany; Ministry of Health Brazil, Brazil; University of California Davis, United States

Zika virus is transmitted between humans by mosquitoes. The majority of infections cause mild flu-like symptoms, but neurological complications in adults and infants have been found in recent outbreaks.

Although it was discovered in Uganda in 1947, Zika only caused sporadic infections in humans until 2007, when it caused a large outbreak in the Federated States of Micronesia. The virus later spread across Oceania, was first reported in Brazil in 2015 and has since rapidly spread across Latin America. This has led many people to question how far it will continue to spread. There was therefore a need to define the areas where the virus could be transmitted, including the human populations that might be risk in these areas.

Messina et al. have now mapped the areas that provide conditions that are highly suitable for the spread of the Zika virus. These areas occur in many tropical and sub-tropical regions around the globe. The largest areas of risk in the Americas lie in Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela. Although Zika has yet to be reported in the USA, a large portion of the southeast region from Texas through to Florida is highly suitable for transmission. Much of sub-Saharan Africa (where several sporadic cases have been reported since the 1950s) also presents an environment that is highly suitable for the Zika virus. While no cases have yet been reported in India, a large portion of the subcontinent is also suitable for Zika transmission.

Over 2 billion people live in Zika-suitable areas globally, and in the Americas alone, over 5.4 million births occurred in 2015 within such areas. It is important, however, to recognize that not all individuals living in suitable areas will necessarily be exposed to Zika.

We still lack a great deal of basic epidemiological information about Zika. More needs to be known about the species of mosquito that spreads the disease and how the Zika virus interacts with related viruses such as dengue. As such information becomes available and clinical cases become routinely diagnosed, the global evidence base will be strengthened, which will improve the accuracy of future maps.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.15272.002