When Will The Zika Threat Be Over? The Outbreak Will Likely Worsen Over The Summer


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made several announcements last week about the spread of Zika in the United States and abroad. Among those announcements was the confirmation of Zika's link to the birth defect microcephaly and the first confirmed case of sexual transmission of the Zika virus between men. Given the advancements in research about the virus, when will the Zika threat be over?

Unfortunately, despite the efforts from the CDC and other countries' health ministries, a cure for Zika is not on the near horizon. Drug companies are scrambling to develop a vaccine because of the extreme danger the virus poses to pregnant women, but, according to The New York Times, experts say it could be years away. Several companies have recently announced that they are actively working on a vaccine, including the pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi Pasteur.

Many pharmaceutical companies have been accused of choosing not to create drugs for diseases that affect developing countries because they are less profitable, and that appears to be the case with Zika. Critics say that the industry has only taken up the charge now because the threat has moved to the United States. In a statement that announced its search for a vaccine, Sanofi Pasteur said:

Until recently, ZIKV [the Zika virus] was considered a rare and seemingly benign virus. However in May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed ZIKV infection in Brazil, and since then it has spread across the Americas. In the United States, authorities have reported a locally transmitted case of Zika in Puerto Rico, with reports of cases in continental United States in returning travelers.
World Health Organization (WHO) chief Margaret Chan (R) gestures next to Chair of the Emergency Committee, Professor David L Heymann, at a press conference on March 8, 2016 in Geneva, after a second emergency committee on Zika virus outbreak. The mosquito-borne virus usually causes mild symptoms in adults, with a low fever, headaches and joint pain, but the virus' quick spread has caused alarm due to an observed association with more serious health problems. / AFP / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

In the company's defense, Zika presents a particular challenge to researchers because of its variations and ability to mutate quickly, according to TIME.

Because a vaccine may be far off, the CDC is advising prevention and caution. Since the disease is mainly transmitted by mosquito bite, screens, repellants, and nets are highly encouraged for anyone traveling to equatorial countries. Experts have also warned that pregnant women should avoid going to regions where the virus is being transmitted, and women thinking of becoming pregnant should wait at least two months to become pregnant after returning home from high-transmission countries.

Vector control agents patrol in the Riviere Pilote district in Martinique, French overseas territories, on February 20, 2016, to fight against the epidemic of Zika virus. / AFP / Nicolas Derne (Photo credit should read NICOLAS DERNE/AFP/Getty Images)NICOLAS DERNE/AFP/Getty Images

But, since the confirmed cases of heterosexual and homosexual transmission of the Zika virus, the CDC has admitted that the scope of the threat has grown. CDC officials said that the ability for Zika to be sexually transmitted "might contribute to more illness than was anticipated when the outbreak was first recognized," according to ABC News. They are now advising testing for anyone who has traveled to affected countries in order to protect their partners and track the spread of the virus. The CDC published research about sexual transmission in their Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

That said, there have only been 350 cases of Zika in the United States so far, and they have all been traced to to foreign travel. But, with the changing seasons, that number is expected to exponentially increase. In anticipation of that seasonal spike, U.S. health officials have asked Congress for $1.9 billion to help fight Zika in the United States and overseas, CBS News reported. House Republicans have assented to some funds, but they likely won't be approved until September.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - FEBRUARY 24: Resident Rafaela Silva dos Santos holds her baby Sofia Valentina outside their home, as they wait for the front door to be unlocked to enter, in the mostly demolished Vila Autodromo favela community, on February 24, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Dos Santos said she fears her baby will contract the Zika virus as another member of the community was diagnosed with Zika two weeks ago. The favela sits directly adjacent to the Olympic Park (TOP) amidst fears that the Zika virus will affect the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in August. Health officials have downplayed fears as the mosquito which transmits the virus is much less active during Rio's winter in August. Most residents of the favela community have moved out and had their properties demolished after receiving compensation for their homes which are located directly adjacent to the Olympic Park under construction for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. A small fraction of remaining families from an original 700 or so in Vila Autodromo are resisting the controversial evictions and remain in the community. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Unfortunately, the mosquito that spread the virus in Central and South America is also common in the southern United States. As temperatures rise, it is expected that the number of cases of Zika will rise as well. Given that government funding is not expected until after summer and a drug treatment even beyond that, the threat of Zika is likely to grow through the summer months, especially in southern, coastal communities.