Zika Pregnancies And Big Questions In Puerto Rico

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The number of new Zika cases in Puerto Rico has dropped dramatically in recent weeks, yet health officials worry the full effect of the outbreak on the island may not be known for months or years to come.

Puerto Rico has confirmed more than 34,000 Zika infections since the virus was first detected on the island in November 2015.

Tyler M. Sharp, acting head of epidemiology at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Dengue Branch in San Juan, says the outbreak peaked during the summer.

“In mid-August we were at more than 2,000 [confirmed] lab cases per week coming in,” Sharp says. “Now we are at a little over 200 per week, so the numbers are down from where they were at the worst part of the outbreak. But there is continued transmission, so there’s continued risk both to pregnant women and everybody else who’s present on the island.”

Sharp says that compared with other mosquito-borne outbreaks, such as chikungunya or dengue, the spread of Zika in the U.S. territory this year was huge.

“The number of Zika virus disease cases that we’ve documented in Puerto Rico in the last year is substantially larger than we’ve seen for any dengue epidemic in the last …” he pauses to ponder how long, “Well, ever.”

That’s in part because dengue has been circulating in the territory for decades.

“Many people in Puerto Rico have immunity against dengue,” Sharp explains. “When Zika was introduced nobody had immunity, so effectively everybody was susceptible.”

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