Zika vs Dengue

Aug 28, 2016 11.30AM |

by Kathleen Bei

THOUGH it was only a matter of time, Singapore now has its own recorded case of locally-transmitted Zika. It was announced yesterday (Aug 27) that a 47-year-old Malaysian woman who lives in Aljunied became infected with the virus although she has not traveled to infected countries recently. You can read more about it here.

This can only mean one thing: some of the most-hated Aedes mosquitoes, known to carry the Dengue virus, may now carry the Zika virus too.

Is Dengue or Zika more dangerous to us? Well the short answer is: Zika’s symptoms are generally milder but it can have terrible consequences if the sufferer is pregnant.

Read on to find out why – and also about the differences and similarities between the two viruses:



Dengue is believed to have originated in monkeys and passed to humans centuries ago in the tropics. The emerging virus only affected nine countries before 1970 but now affects over 100 countries, though severe dengue is more widespread in Asia and Latin America. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates a total of 500,000 people hospitalised for dengue each year and 2.5 per cent of those infected die.

More than 30,000 cases of Dengue are expected in Singapore this year, an increase from the record 22,170 cases in 2013.

Zika on the other hand is a more recent epidemic originating in monkeys in the Zika forest of Uganda in 1947. Between 1960 and 1980, the virus moved from Uganda to West Africa and Asia, though the first large outbreak only occurred in 2007 in the Pacific Island of Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia, infecting 73 per cent of residents. To date, 70 countries and territories have reported evidence of Zika virus transmission since 2007, 53 of which with a first reported outbreak since 2015.

Besides the one confirmed locally-transmitted case yesterday (Aug 27), there are three other suspected cases currently in Singapore.



Both Zika and Dengue are transmitted through the bite of an infected female Aedes mosquito. The males of the species do not bite.

You can expect an incubation period (the time between exposure and symptoms) of four to 10 days after being bitten by a Dengue-infected bloodsucker and three to 12 days after being bitten by a Zika-infected one.

Both viruses are not contagious from person to person, however, the Zika virus may be sexually transmitted. Sexual transmission from a Zika-infected person can occur even if the person is not symptomatic.


Symptoms and Risks

Both viruses have similar symptoms such as fever, rashes, muscle or joint pain, conjunctivitis and a general feeling of malaise. These symptoms usually last between two days and a week.

Dengue tends to be more serious, with more people having to go to the hospital to seek treatment. With Zika, four out of five infected people do not even display any symptoms.

Severe dengue may also be fatal due to plasma leaking, severe bleeding, and respiratory difficulties. Symptoms include persistent vomiting, rapid breathing, and blood in vomit within a few days of the first symptoms.

Zika poses a bigger threat to pregnant women due to the birth abnormalities associated with the virus. Microcephaly for example, a brain disease where the baby is born with an abnormally small head, is associated with the Zika virus.

Despite this, adjunct Associate Professor Lim Poh Lian, Head of the Department of Infectious Diseases at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, said that when compared to dengue “Zika is a milder disease by and large for most people.”


Diagnosis and Treatment

Both viruses are diagnosed by looking at symptoms and blood tests.

In Singapore, those suspected to be infected with Zika are kept isolated while waiting for blood test results.

Since there is no specific treatment for either viruses, symptoms must be treated individually.

In the case of severe dengue, suspected persons must seek medical care immediately, as early detection and treatment can reduce mortality rates from 20 per cent to 1 per cent.

For pregnant women infected with Zika, the lack of treatment and statistics on the virus means many choose to terminate their pregnancies to avoid the potential consequences associated with Zika and birth.


Featured image d2623-8 by Flickr user U.S. Department of Agriculture. (CC BY 2.0)

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