On February 1, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the fast-moving Zika virus an international public health emergency. Much about Zika virus and the threat it poses remains unclear. However, global health officials agree the primary way the virus spreads is through bites from infected mosquitoes. Knowing the answers to the following common questions about mosquitoes and Zika virus can help protect you and your family from this disease:


The Zika virus was first recorded in rhesus monkeys in East Africa in 1947. Named after a forest in Uganda, the virus was confirmed in humans in that region five years later.1,2 Zika virus has been present in Africa and Asia since that time, but outbreaks were rare until Zika hit the Pacific in 2007. The first case of Zika virus disease in the Americas was confirmed in Brazil in May 2015.2 Zika virus has spread rapidly in the months since.


Though Zika virus can spread other ways, including human sexual contact, mosquito bites are the primary means of transmission. Two species of invasive mosquitoes are behind current Zika outbreaks. The primary carrier in tropical and subtropical areas is the yellow fever mosquito, known by the scientific name Aedes aegypti. A second known carrier is the Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, which can overwinter and reproduce in much colder climates.2,3 These same species spread the viruses that cause other diseases, including dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.1

Humans infected while traveling can bring the virus into a new area on their return. Outbreaks occur through what’s referred to as local transmission, when mosquitoes in an area become infected and begin transmitting the virus to humans through bites. The virus spreads as uninfected mosquitoes bite infected humans, and then transmit the virus by biting others.

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