A comparison of Zika and dengue outbreaks using national surveillance data in the Dominican Republic

by Leigh R. Bowman, Joacim Rocklöv, Axel Kroeger, Piero Olliaro, Ronald Skewes


Aedes-borne arboviruses continue to precipitate epidemics worldwide. In Dominican Republic, the appearance of Zika virus cases that closely followed a large dengue epidemic provided an opportunity to study the different transmission drivers behind these two flaviviruses. Retrospective datasets were used to collect information on the populations at risk and descriptive statistics were used to describe the outbreaks on a national scale.

Methodology/ Principal findings

Expectedly, box plots showed that 75% of dengue was reported in those aged <20 years while Zika infections were more widely dispersed among the population. Dengue attack rates were marginally higher among males at 25.9 per 10,000 population vs. 21.5 per 10,000 population for females. Zika infections appeared to be highly clustered among females (73.8% (95% CI 72.6%, 75.0%; p<0.05)); age-adjusted Zika attack rates among females were 7.64 per 10,000 population compared with 2.72 per 10,000 population among males. R0 calculations stratified by sex also showed a significantly higher metric among females: 1.84 (1.82, 1.87; p<0.05) when compared to males at 1.72 (1.69, 1.75; p<0.05). However, GBS attack rates stratified by sex revealed slightly higher risk in males vs. females, at 0.62 and 0.57 per 10,000 population respectively.

Conclusions/ Significance

Evidence suggests little impact of existing dengue immunity on reported attack rates of Zika at the population level. Confounding of R0 and incident risk calculations by sex-specific over-reporting can alter the reliability of epidemiological metrics, which could be addressed using associated proxy syndromes or conditions to explore seemingly sex-skewed incidence. The findings indicate that community awareness campaigns, through influencing short-term health seeking behaviour, remain the most plausible mechanism behind increased reporting among women of reproductive age, although biological susceptibility cannot yet be ruled out. Media campaigns and screening are therefore recommended for women of reproductive age during Zika outbreaks. Future research should focus on clinical Zika outcomes among dengue seropositive individuals.

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