WASHINGTON (AP) — The Zika virus may not seem as big a threat as last summer but don’t let your guard down — especially if you’re pregnant or trying to be.
While cases of the birth defect-causing virus have dropped sharply from last year’s peak in parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, Zika hasn’t disappeared from the region and remains a potential threat.
It’s hard to predict how much risk people face in locales with smoldering infection, or if cases might spike again. For now, pregnant women still are being urged not to travel to a country or area with even a few reported cases of Zika, because the consequences can be disastrous for a fetus’ brain .
“It’s part of the new reality,” said Dr. Martin Cetron of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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Those trying to conceive, and their partners, are advised to check with their doctor on how long to wait after visiting a location with active Zika infection.
There are lingering questions, too, about Zika’s risk beyond pregnancy, enough that U.S. scientists just began studying babies in Guatemala to learn if infection after birth also might damage the brain.
The challenge is getting those messages to the people who most need it when Zika is fast receding from the public’s radar — even as money may be drying up to track the virus and the babies it injures.
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In the past month, Puerto Rico and Brazil, hard hit by Zika last year, declared their epidemics over. But smaller numbers of infections continue around the region, according to the CDC and the Pan American Health Organization.
“Zika hasn’t gone away,” said CDC acting director Dr. Anne Schuchat. “We can’t afford to be complacent.”
The U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry counts 1,963 pregnant women in U.S. states who had lab tests showing Zika infection since officials began counting in 2016, and another 4,107 in U.S. territories.
Since the beginning of June, 271 pregnant women were added to the registry’s Zika count, 80 of them in U.S. states and the rest residents of U.S. territories, although it’s not clear when they became infected.
What about nonpregnant travelers? CDC has counted 140 cases so far this year in U.S. states, all of them who had symptoms. The vast majority of people who get Zika don’t notice symptoms, yet still are potential spreaders of infection…