The Minister for Health, Aaron Motsoaledi, confirmed the first case of the Zika virus in South Africa on Friday 19 February. The virus was diagnosed on a Colombian businessman visiting South Africa.
The virus can only be transmitted from mother to fetus in pregnant women and through a bite from an Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries it. This means there is little or no risk to the South African population.
According to Motsoaledi,
The confirmation of this particular case poses no risk to the South African population as the virus is not transmitted from human to human but through the Aedes aegypti mosquito and or possibly from mother to the fetus in pregnant women.
However, a recent case of sexually transmitted Zika confirmed in the United States might be something to be worried about.
A case of sexual transmission was recently reported in the US but is still regarded as very rare.
The Colombian was diagnosed by a private pathology laboratory in Johannesburg while the National Institute for Communicable Diseases is performing a confirmation test.
Spokesperson for the Minister for Health, Joe Maila, explained that the businessman was plagued with fever and a rash about four days after his arrival to the country but is now fully recovered. The businessman contacted the virus in Colombia prior to his business trip to Johannesburg.
Speaking about the case, Joe Maila said,
The infection was acquired in Colombia prior to his visit to Johannesburg for business. Colombia is experiencing a large outbreak of the Zika virus.
Maila said the virus is usually present in the blood of a patient for a very short time – typically less than seven days.
Someone who has the virus in his or her blood will have to be bitten by the correct sub-type of an Aedes aegypti mosquito within the period of seven days for the virus to be transmitted to a non-carrier through a bite from the same mosquito.
The Aedes mosquito that transmit the Zika virus in South America also transmit dengue fever and yellow fever, but these viruses are not found in South Africa, indicating that the local Aedes mosquito does not contribute to the spread of the Zika virus.
Given the frequency of travel between South Africa and a number of countries currently experiencing outbreaks of the Zika virus, it is likely that other sporadic imported cases will be seen here in travelers as has been the experience in a number of countries.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said the Zika virus is “spreading explosively” in the Americas and the region may see up to four million cases of the disease strongly suspected of causing birth defects.
South Africans should be wary of foreigners, and also avoid travelling to the areas where the mosquito responsible for transmitting the virus breeds, to avoid an ‘explosive spreading’ of the Zika virus in South Africa.