RESEARCHERS at Oxford University are to begin three new projects to tackle the Zika virus.

The research projects aim to answer urgent questions about the disease, which has continued to spread across the Americas since its outbreak in Brazil last year.

Academics will be looking to establish the links with microcephaly - the abnormal smallness of the head - and Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare disease of the nervous system.

Professor Stephen Kennedy, from the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology will create an online facility to share images of fetal and newborn heads to try to understand the extent of the problem of babies being born with microcephaly – believed to be caused by Zika.

Professor Zoltán Molnár, from the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, will carry out research in mice to understand at the cellular level how Zika causes microcephaly.

Dr George Warimwe, from the Jenner Institute in the Nuffield Department of Medicine, will study how the virus is spread.

It is hoped the research will help to create new diagnosis tools and vaccines to protect those most at risk from the infection.

The research is funded through the Government's Global Challenges Research Fund and Newton Fund and by the Wellcome Trust.

Zika is an infection is spread by daytime-active Aedes mosquitoes and its symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes).

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika virus a public health emergency of international concern in February.