What is an unexpected danger in France

In Hyères in the south of France, a woman fell ill with Zika, who in all likelihood was infected with the virus via a mosquito bite on site. This is reported by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). The virus is usually only found in tropical areas and is mainly found in Africa, Asia and South America. Zika infections registered in Europe have so far only been associated with trips to these endemic areas - either those returning from the trip were affected themselves or they had infected their sexual partners with the introduced virus. If the suspicion from southern France is confirmed, it would be the first autochthonous Zika infection in Europe. However, the risk of the virus spreading further and the associated malformations in unborn babies are still minimal, according to experts from the CRM Center for Travel Medicine.

The patient from Hyères had already fallen ill in the summer and has now completely recovered. Retrospective blood tests showed that she had had a Zika infection. "What is special about this case is that the patient has not been abroad and has not had sexual contact with those returning from traveling," says Professor Dr. med. Tomas Jelinek, Scientific Director of the CRM Center for Travel Medicine. Also, no other Zika cases are known in the area. The ECDC therefore assumes that the virus was transmitted locally by a mosquito.

The main vector Aedes aegypti, the Egyptian tiger mosquito or yellow fever mosquito, does not occur in southern France. However, the virus can also be transmitted by the closely related species Aedes albopictus, the Asian tiger mosquito, at high temperatures. This mosquito species, which was originally also tropical, has established itself in southern France in recent years and has also spread to southern Germany. A Zika transmission by Aedes albopictus, as it has now apparently taken place in Hyères, is therefore described by the ECDC as "not unexpected". Since no other Zika cases are known in the region so far and given the meanwhile autumn temperatures, the risk of infection can currently be assessed as very low.

A Zika infection is usually harmless in people without a previous illness, and in many cases even goes unnoticed. The most common symptoms are a slight fever, joint pain, a lumpy and blotchy rash and conjunctivitis. "A rare complication is the so-called Guillain-Barré syndrome, which leads to paralysis, but which is usually reversible," explains Jelinek. A Zika infection has the most serious consequences for unborn babies whose mothers have contracted the virus. You have a significantly increased risk of so-called microcephaly - a serious developmental disorder of the brain that is associated with a reduced head circumference and more or less pronounced intellectual disability.

So far there is neither a vaccination nor an effective therapy against a Zika infection. "The most effective protection against infection and possible complications is therefore to avoid mosquito bites," says Jelinek. Since the Aedes mosquitoes are predominantly diurnal, the tropical medicine specialist advises wearing light-colored, long clothing that only rests loosely on the skin. Uncovered areas of skin should be protected with repellents. Jelinek also recommends mosquito nets in front of the windows or over the bed as a mechanical barrier. "These measures not only protect against Zika, but also against other pathogens that can be transmitted via Aedes mosquitoes," he emphasizes.

  • RKI information page on Zikavirus infections: https://www.rki.de/SharedDocs/FAQ/Zikavirus/Zikavirus-Infektions.html
  • ECDC report on the current Zika case in France: https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/sites/default/files/documents/RRA-Zika-France-16-Oct-2019-corrected.pdf
  • FAQs about Zika on the website of the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, Hamburg: https://www.bnitm.de/aktuelles/fragen- Answeren/faq-zum-zika-virus/
  • On the current case (French daily newspaper): https://www.francebleu.fr/infos/sante-sciences/un-habitant-de-hyeres-infectee-par-le-virus-zika-1570631357