Between 2015 and 2016, Zika became an epidemic of global concern and the focus of intense media coverage. Using a hybrid model of frame and social representations theory, we examine how the Zika outbreak was reported in two major newspapers in Brazil: O Globo and Folha de São Paulo. The analysis of 186 articles published between December 2015 and May 2016 reveals a dominant ‘war’ frame supported by two sub-frames: one focused on eradicating the vector (mosquito) and another on controlling microcephaly, placing the burden of prevention on women. Scientific uncertainties about the virus and its relationship to microcephaly coupled with political uncertainties in Brazil increased the power of the war frame. This frame gave prominence and legitimacy to certain representations of disease management during the crisis, masking social and gender inequalities. We show how the cartography of the disease overlaps with that of poverty and regional inequality in Brazil to argue that addressing socio-economic aspects is essential, but normally neglected, in media communications during disease outbreaks like Zika.