Although authorities are still on alert, the Zika epidemic seems to have backed off.
It was one of the scariest and most unexpected outbreaks in recent years - the Zika virus was thought to be almost benign, causing no major issue, and almost never requiring hospitalization. However, Zika, which is transmitted either through mosquito bites or through sex, provided a nasty surprise when thousands of babies were born with severe birth defects such as microcephaly, due to the inconspicuous virus.
To make things even worse, the hotspot of the outbreak was Brazil, a country which was supposed to hold the 2016 Olympics (and did). As more and more cases were being reported in Brazil and neighboring countries, there was a concern that with people from all over the world coming to Brazil, the diseases would spread everywhere. Brazil declared a national emergency state in 2015, starting a campaign to eradicate the mosquitoes that spread the diseases.
Meanwhile, in 2016, there were 170,535 cases reported from January to April alone, causing the WHO to declare it a public health emergency of international concern. The word "pandemic" was increasingly used.
With Zika transmission reported in 23 countries and territories of the Americas as of early February, "the level of alarm is extremely high," said World Health Organization Director-general Margaret Chan, MD, MPH. A committee convened by Chan officially declared Zika a public health emergency of international concern Feb. 1, indicating that the disease constitutes an international public health risk and requires a coordinated response.
"The level of concern is high, as is the level of uncertainty," Chan said Jan. 28 in announcing the committee. "Questions abound. We need to get some answers quickly."
Study after study shed more light on the virus and the disease, but at this point in time there is no real treatment for Zika. You just have it. You might not even feel sick or just exhibit flu-like symptoms, but then you pass it to a woman. If she becomes pregnant, then the child is at great risk. So it isn't exactly the regular kind of disease that comes and kills you or makes you feel really bad. Instead, it's a disease whose threat might greatly spread in the long run.
Thankfully, Brazil's anti-mosquito campaign proved to be effective and in 2017, there were only 7,911 cases of Zika from January to April. That's still a concerning figure, but it's a 95% reduction compared to the similar period in 2016.
"The end of the emergency doesn't mean the end of surveillance or assistance" to affected families, said Adeilson Cavalcante, the secretary for health surveillance at Brazil's Health Ministry. "The Health Ministry and other organizations involved in this area will maintain a policy of fighting Zika, dengue and chikungunya."