LONDON, England, Thursday July 28, 2016 – While recent studies have predicted that Zika’s aggressive spread will burn out naturally within three years, new research suggests that the situation could get a whole lot worse before it gets better.
The latest research, published in the journal Nature Microbiology, indicates that there could be at least another 90 million infections before the current epidemic wanes.
Worse, that means that at least 1.6 million women of child-bearing age could be infected in Latin America alone.
Scientists stress that is a modest estimate compared to the global reach of the virus, which experts fear may have already infected mosquitoes in the United States.
Lead author of the US, British and French study, Professor Andrew Tatem, said the projections are an early estimation of the virus’s devastating impact.
“It is difficult to accurately predict how many child-bearing women may be at risk from Zika because a large proportion of cases show no symptoms,” Professor Tatum explained.
“This largely invalidates methods based on case data and presents a formidable challenge for scientists trying to understand the likely impact of the disease on populations.”
For the study, researchers calculated how many people could become infected by the virus in every five-square-kilometre region of South and Central America.
They factored-in disease patterns from similar epidemics, as well as climate conditions and incubation periods and other information influencing transmission of the virus.
The scientists also analysed data on population, fertility, pregnancy rates, birth rates, and socio-economic conditions.
The results pointed to a staggering number of potential infections within the next few years.
The findings of the research come at a time when fears are mounting that the virus could have reached mosquitoes in the US.
An investigation into whether US mosquitoes have picked up the virus was launched after a Florida woman was diagnosed with Zika despite not having travelled to a Zika-infected country or having sex with a Zika-infected person. Since then, several similar cases have emerged.
Compounding the concerns, a Brazilian research team has revealed that Zika has been found in another much more common species of mosquito, which is far more prevalent in America and can tolerate cool, non-tropical conditions.
Until now, the mosquito species Aedes aegypti had been identified as the main transmitter of Zika infections, but Brazilian scientists have discovered that the Culex quinquefasciatus mosquito can also carry the virus.
The Culex is 20 times more common than the Aedes aegypti, making it difficult to limit the spread of the virus.