Illness That Caused 'Global Panic' Never Really Went Away

There's still no vaccine for mosquito-born Zika that struck in 2015; experts worry of future outbreak
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 5, 2024 4:45 PM CST
Current Zika Stats 'Probably Just the Tip of the Iceberg'
In this Jan. 27, 2016, file photo, an Aedes aegypti mosquito known to carry the Zika virus, is photographed through a microscope in Recife, Brazil.   (AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File)

In 2016, the United Nations declared that the Zika virus—a mosquito-borne illness that can cause serious neurological effects in newborns with infected moms—was no longer a worldwide emergency. But the virus didn't actually disappear: In fact, Medriva deems it a "silent threat still lurking." The health care company recalls the "global panic" that set in when Zika first emerged in 2015, leading to more rigid public health measures and travel warnings, especially regarding visits to South America and the Caribbean. "Then, as quickly as it appeared, Zika vanished from global awareness," the Atlantic notes in a piece exploring how and why the virus fell off the map of public consciousness. That vanishing is partly due to the fact that case numbers simply dropped after 2016, and also because COVID soon swooped in to take its place in terms of the world's attention.

But there's still no vaccine for the disease—spread through sexual contact, blood transfusions, and, as mentioned, via a pregnant person to the fetus, which could end up with microcephaly (a small head)—and experts worry that another outbreak could be heading our way. There were more than 35,000 cases documented in the Americas last year, and one Yale professor says those numbers are "probably just the tip of the iceberg," as up to 80% of those infected are asymptomatic. When an outbreak does strike again—experts figure within the next two decades—women living in poverty in the global south will likely be among the hardest hit, in nations with subpar health care and a lack of air-conditioning and sanitation that would keep mosquitoes at bay. For now, the CDC lists nations with "a potential risk of Zika," but adds "we do not have accurate information on the current level of risk." More here. (More Zika virus stories.)

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