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Zika Cases Down, But Not Out: Public Health Watch Report

What a difference a year makes.

Last August (2016), news outlets the world over were all Zika, all the time. Coverage of the mosquito-borne virus was everywhere, from The New York Times, to CNN, to The New England Journal of Medicine, and, of course, Contagion®. And no wonder: According to Pan-American Health Organization figures, there were more than 300,000 suspected and confirmed cases of the mosquito-borne virus in Brazil in 2016 alone. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, meanwhile, identified more than 5,100 cases in the 50 states, last year, and more than 30,000 in the territory of Puerto Rico.

In other words, a little media attention was probably warranted—and we certainly got it. Once the outbreak in Brazil was confirmed in 2014, we learned about the differences between “local” and travel-related cases as well as sexual transmission and the devastating effects of Zika virus on pregnant women and their newborns. Much attention was given to the stories of leading athletes who turned down opportunities to represent their countries at the 2016 Summer Olympics over fears of getting infected. The games were, of course, held in Rio de Janeiro, arguably ground zero for Zika.

And although all that media attention certainly seemed shrill at times, it had an impact: A year on, the United States and most of the other countries affected by the Zika virus are better prepared to prevent outbreaks and control their spread. The proof is in the data.

Indeed, the number of Zika virus cases reported thus far in 2017 is down significantly from where it was over the same period last year. In the United States, for example, the CDC has recorded 185 confirmed Zika cases this year, through August 3, 2017. A total of 184 of those cases have been deemed travel-related, meaning those infected became so as a result of a mosquito bite sustained while traveling within a Zika-endemic area. In 2016, according to the CDC, there were more than 224 “local” cases confirmed in Florida (218) and Texas (6).

In Puerto Rico, one of the regions most affected by Zika in 2016, there have been only 474 cases of the virus so far, this year. And, in Brazil, there have been fewer than 10,000 cases in 2017 to date. In fact, in May, the South American nation officially declared its Zika-related public health emergency over.

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