Zika Retreats In Some Latin Nations Hit Hard By Early Outbreak
Public health authorities say the spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus appears to have peaked in some Latin American countries hit hardest by the outbreak late last year.
Meeting in Atlanta last week, officials said the numbers of people affected by the virus has—in recent weeks—declined in Colombia and El Salvador, and its spread may have peaked in other places. The officials cautioned, however, that the slowdown may be temporary or seasonal and that the virus is still expanding in other areas.
“We think it has passed the peak of transmission in some countries, like Colombia, but the outbreak is continuing, and it’s possible there will be a second wave of infection,” Sylvain Aldighieri, head of epidemiological response at the Pan American Health Organization, told the Washington Post. “And Zika has not reached its peak yet in Central America and the Caribbean.”
The number of infections in Colombia has slowed from more than 6,000 new cases a week in early February to fewer than 3,000 per week by late March. New cases in El Salvador declined by 90% between January and March, and Honduras saw less than 700 a week last month compared to more than 2,000 per week earlier in the year.
The slowdown has prompted authorities in Colombia to curtail their estimates of the virus’ impact in the country and raised hopes that it may not be as widespread as initially feared. Scientists believe the virus may be linked to birth defects and a rare neurological disorder known as Guillain-Barre syndrome.
Like its cousins, dengue and chikungunya, Zika is transmitted by mosquitos—specifically those of the Aedes species. Only about 1 in 5 people exposed to the virus actually contract the disease, which generates a range of flu-like symptoms in its victims. Zika has been endemic to equatorial regions in Africa and Asia since the 1950s but only began appearing in the western hemisphere in 2015.
The Pan American Health Organization says nearly 200,000 people in 33 countries have been infected with Zika in the Americas so far. U.S. officials say 312 cases have been reported in the United States, but all instances involved travelers who visited affected areas in Latin America or people who had sexual contact with partners infected by the virus.