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Zika virus outbreak stabilizes after panic in 2016

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Zika is primarily spread by the bite of an Aedes aegypti mosquito (pictured), but it can also be transmitted sexually Luis Robayo, AFP/File

The World Health Organization’s trend data show a massive spike in Zika in the Americas in early 2016, with 25,000 to 40,000 cases recorded each week in South America, mainly in Brazil. Case counts steadily leveled off, dipping below 5,000 in the final weeks of 2016 and to a few hundred cases per week about halfway through 2017.

The Zika virus scare that sparked unprecedented travel warnings and a rush on bug spray in 2016 has petered out in its second year, with scientists saying that efforts to stamp out disease-carrying mosquitoes and the human immunity built up over the last year have combined to contain the spread.

Where the U.S. recorded roughly 225 mosquito bite-related Zika cases last year, so far just one case has been reported this year — a Texan, infected in a county bordering Mexico.

And while more than 2,000 people had contracted the disease while traveling outside the U.S. at this point in 2016, that’s fallen to just 200 travel-related cases this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Experts say cases are down across the hemisphere as people have built up antibodies over the last two years and are better able to resist infection. Most people who contract Zika don’t show symptoms anyway, so even those who weren’t sure if they were infected will be part of the population’s natural shield against transmission.

“Zika epidemics, in a way, act like a vaccine. Once enough inhabitants of a country or community are infected, they develop immunity,” said Lawrence O. Gostin, a law professor at Georgetown University. ” At a certain point it then becomes much harder for the disease to spread because there is a similar kind of herd immunity that one would expect from a vaccine.”

The World Health Organization’s trend data show a massive spike in Zika in the Americas in early 2016, with 25,000 to 40,000 cases recorded each week in South America, mainly in Brazil. Case counts steadily leveled off, dipping below 5,000 in the final weeks of 2016 and to a few hundred cases per week about halfway through 2017.