The first confirmed case of Zika virus infection in the Americas was reported in Northeast Brazil in May 2015, although phylogenetic studies indicate virus introduction as early as 2013. Zika rapidly spread across Brazil and to more than 50 other countries and territories on the American continent. The Aedesaegypti mosquito is thought to be the principal vector responsible for the widespread transmission of the virus. However, sexual transmission has also been reported. The explosively emerging epidemic has had diverse impacts on population health, coinciding with cases of Guillain-Barré Syndrome and an unexpected epidemic of newborns with microcephaly and other neurological impairments. This led to Brazil declaring a national public health emergency in November 2015, followed by a similar decision by the World Health Organization three months later. While dengue virus serotypes took several decades to spread across Brazil, the Zika virus epidemic diffused within months, extending beyond the area of permanent dengue transmission, which is bound by a climatic barrier in the south and low population density areas in the north. This rapid spread was probably due to a combination of factors, including a massive susceptible population, climatic conditions conducive for the mosquito vector, alternative non-vector transmission, and a highly mobile population. The epidemic has since subsided, but many unanswered questions remain. In this article, we provide an overview of the discovery of Zika virus in Brazil, including its emergence and spread, epidemiological surveillance, vector and non-vector transmission routes, clinical complications, and socio-economic impacts. We discuss gaps in the knowledge and the challenges ahead to anticipate, prevent, and control emerging and re-emerging epidemics of arboviruses in Brazil and worldwide.
Keywords: Congenital Zika Syndrome; Zika virus; epidemiology; microcephaly; socio-economic impact; surveillance; vector control.