It's been almost the year since peak Zika freak-out. Here, the latest reports and travel recommendations.
It's been almost a year since the height of the Zika frenzy—the number of cases was skyrocketing, the list of ways the virus could spread was growing, and the possible health effects were getting scarier and scarier. And this was all just before the summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, a hot spot for Zika-carrying mosquitoes. (Obv, inducing panic for some Olympians, who decided to skip the Games altogether in the name of staying safe.)
The Bad News: Zika-Related Birth Defects
A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 5 percent of women in U.S. territories who had a confirmed Zika virus infection during their pregnancy had a baby or fetus with Zika-related defects. These include microcephaly (an abnormally small head), brain and eye damage, restricted movement due to abnormal muscle or joint growth, and a rare nervous system disease called Guillain–Barré syndrome (GBS). As of late May 2017, the current count of pregnant women with Zika in U.S. territories reached 3,916, and there were 72 infants born with Zika-related birth defects from the 1,579 completed pregnancies.
Women infected during their first trimester had the greatest risk—1 in 12—of their fetus or baby having Zika-associated defects. According to the CDC's report, about 8 percent of first-trimester infections, 5 percent of second-trimester infections, and 4 percent of third-trimester infections resulted in Zika-associated defects.
The Good News: Current Zika Alert Level
The epidemic may be officially on its way out. Puerto Rico's governor announced recently that the Zika virus epidemic is officially over for the island, according to Reuters. Though Puerto Rico has had more than 40K outbreaks in total, there have only been 10 newly reported cases since the end of April. That doesn't mean Zika has magically disappeared from PR, though. The CDC still recommends a Level 2 yellow "cautionary" travel alert for the area and that people "practice enhanced precautions."
Also, the Level 2 travel warnings for Brazil and the Miami area have officially been lifted, meaning that, while sporadic cases may still occur, the risk of transmission is likely relatively low. But don't get your luggage out quite yet. The CDC still considers many other countries to pose a Level 2 travel risk, including Mexico, Argentina, Barbados, Aruba, Costa Rica, and many more countries in the Caribbean, South and Central America, Asia, and Africa. Brownsville, TX, a town right by the Mexican border, is the only area in the U.S. that still has a Level 2 warning. (View the full list of CDC Zika travel recommendations and alerts right here, plus guidance on safe Zika practices in Level 2 areas and areas where Level 2 designations have been lifted.)
What That Means About Your Zika Risk
You can take a deep breath. We're no longer in the midst of crazy Zika panic. However, the virus isn't totally wiped out, so you should still take precautions—and especially if you're pregnant.
First, brush up on these need-to-know Zika virus facts. A lot more is understood about the virus now than when it first popped up, including the fact that it can be spread as an STD, can live in your eyes, and may even have detrimental effects on the adult brain. If you're traveling to a country that still has a Level 2 warning or where one was recently lifted, you should still be taking care to prevent mosquito bites and practice safe sex. (Which you should be doing anyway, TBH.)