In 2016, the virus burst onto the international scene with news of hundreds of Brazilian babies born with serious birth defects, with the World Health Organization declaring Zika a global health emergency on Feb. 1.
A flurry of updates on the virus’s rapid spread followed, with warnings to be careful about mosquitoes and certain combinations of travel and sex.
By this past June, the Pennsylvania tally stood at 148 confirmed and 74 suspected Zika infections, and Lancaster County health system leaders said they had seen at least 29 pregnant women infected or exposed to the virus.
But then the news tailed off, both here and across the world, as the number of infections dwindled.
As the second year of Zika draws to an end, here’s where things stand now.
Have any Lancaster County babies been diagnosed with Zika-linked birth defects?
Dr. Hayley Ryan, clinical director of maternal child health at SouthEast Lancaster Health Services, said seven babies have tested positive for Zika infection, and none of them have microcephaly, the serious birth defect most commonly linked to Zika.
But, Ryan said, “We are still evaluating for other possible complications relating to Zika.”
She wouldn’t elaborate, citing patient privacy concerns.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has said some defects associated with Zika are not always obvious at birth, and follow-up care is crucial.
None of the other local health care providers reported any Zika-linked birth defects.
How many people here had Zika?
Again, it’s hard to say.
Lancaster General Health said its Women & Babies Hospital saw 50 patients infected or exposed to Zika, but no birth abnormalities or Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare syndrome that can cause paralysis.
SouthEast said it has worked with 18 pregnant women who had Zika, but currently has none.
UPMC Pinnacle said it had one confirmed patient with Zika, and the baby was born healthy.
And WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital said it had no positive Zika tests.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health provides only statewide numbers. Its latest tally shows 152 confirmed Zika infections and 80 possible ones since 2015.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has the following tallies.
- In the continental U.S.: 2,057 affected pregnancies, with Zika linked to 98 babies born with birth defects and nine pregnancy losses.
- In U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico: 3,487 affected pregnancies, with Zika linked to 142 babies born with birth defects and eight pregnancy losses.
Were mosquitoes here carrying Zika?
The mosquito species most likely to carry the virus, aedes aegypti, has not been found in the state since 2002, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
The other species that can carry the virus is called aedes albopictus, or Asian tiger mosquito.
The department reported catching 2,075 of those in Lancaster County this year, and 123,479 statewide. It said none tested positive for Zika.
Is the danger past?
Department of Health spokesman Nate Wardle says Zika is now “an illness that is a part of life,” and likened it to other diseases spread by mosquitoes and ticks, such as West Nile Virus or Lyme Disease.
Zika has “serious and significant” effects and could still spread quickly, he said, and people need to know how to protect themselves, particularly if traveling to an area where the virus is or has been prevalent.
Ryan said while the number of Zika infections seen at SouthEast have fallen significantly, officials remain concerned “given our local immigration patterns and the recent hurricanes in the Caribbean and Central America.”
“We are still discouraging travel to endemic areas for pregnant women or patients planning a pregnancy in the next six months,” she said.
Where is Zika still prevalent?
The CDC has travel alerts urging caution in areas with a risk of contracting Zika, including Puerto Rico, Mexico, India, and much of Central America, South America, the Caribbean, the Pacific Islands, Africa and Southeast Asia.
In the United States, the CDC notes that there was mosquito transmission of Zika in Miami-Dade County, Florida, and Brownsville, Texas, although officials lifted recommendations to avoid those areas in June and August, respectively.