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What Insurers Can Learn From the Zika Outbreak


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In the weeks leading up to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, a few athletes announced they would forgo the games for fear of contracting the Zika virus in Brazil. There’s a good chance athletes aren’t the only ones avoiding traveling to South America. While Zika presents with very minor symptoms that sometimes go unnoticed in adults, it can lead to microcephaly for infants born from mothers who have contracted it.

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What Insurers Can Learn From the Zika Outbreak

  1. 1. Outbreak Update Zika Virus What Insurers Should Learn
  2. 2. The WHO declared the Brazil outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern in February 2016. Some scientists have called for the cancellation of the Summer Olympics to be held in August in Rio de Janeiro. Source:
  3. 3. Does this mean Zika is a significant pandemic threat?
  4. 4. Zika virus is transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito or sex. Spread through blood transfusion is a strong possibility. Source:
  5. 5. Large numbers of Zika virus infections have been reported in Brazil since May 2015. cases by December 2015 (number likely underreported due to the mild nature of clinical symptoms). Estimates put the total at 500,000 to 1.5 million
  6. 6. Zika infection in adults usually causes short-lasting symptoms associated with mild fever. But it can cause Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) – a rare and serious neurological disorder. Zika is also a cause of microcephaly – a devastating developmental condition in newborns. Source:
  7. 7. 500,000 visitors are expected in Brazil for the Summer Olympics. But calling the Olympics off, or moving them, is unlikely to significantly influence the international spread of Zika.
  8. 8. After all, Brazil is only 1 of nearly 40 countries affected by the current outbreak in the Americas. No autochthonous confirmed cases to date April-June 2016 (7) January-March 2016 (22) October-December 2015 (10) Prior to October 2015 (1) Countries with confirmed autochthonous cases of Zika virus Updated as of July 14, 2016 Source:
  9. 9. Pregnant women are advised not to travel to Brazil. However, precautions are still being taken.
  10. 10. Source: will be handed out to athletes in Rio by the International Olympic Committee – a record number. 450K condoms Rio 2016 100K condoms Beijing 2008 150K condoms London 2012
  11. 11. Yet accidentally transporting home an infected insect could introduce Zika to new areas. Infected travellers could return with Zika in their blood and pass it on through mosquito bites or sex.
  12. 12. What does this mean for insurers?
  13. 13. Although Zika infection is unlikely to cause long-term disability in adults, Projections suggest that Zika could lead to a moderate increase in total disability claims for a limited period of time in heavily affected areas. 20% are left severely disabled. 5% of those infected with GBS die Source:;
  14. 14. Source:; The recent rise in microcephaly is clearly linked to Zika. Insurers may think it prudent to exclude benefits for congenital conditions in unborn children.
  15. 15. Thankfully, there are some signs that the worst might be over in Brazil. Epidemiological reports show a decline in the number of newly reported cases (confirmed and not confirmed) of microcephaly. The proportion of confirmed microcephaly cases in the analysed cases has been declining. Newly Reported Cases of Microcephaly in Brazil per Calender Week in 2016 Source: Own table based on 0 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 W3 W5 W7 W9 W11 W13 W15 W17 W19 W21 W23 W25
  16. 16. In many ways, Zika is yet another test of what could happen in the event of a sustained viral attack on global public health. So it’s about being prepared.
  17. 17. © 2016 General Re Corporation | This presentation is intended to provide background information for our clients and professional staff. It is time sensitive and may need to be revised and updated periodically. If you are interested in more information about how Zika could affect your business, get in touch. Tim Eppert Life/Health Senior Actuary, Cologne + 49 221 9738 579