The Zika virus is likely to peak this summer but will be a challenge for the United States for years to come.
That’s the opinion of experts who have used computer modeling to predict the future course of the epidemic, according to NPR.
The study was made public as it was reported that a woman in New York passed Zika on to her male partner during sex, according to a report by the CDC and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
“This represents the first reported occurrence of female-to-male sexual transmission of Zika virus,” the report stated, according to The New York Times.
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This development increases the fear that the disease could spread more rapidly. It was previously thought that Zika could be passed on only from a man to a woman in sexual intercourse, or between two men.
In Latin America, the virus has been spread mainly by mosquitos.
The extent of Zika’s reach is difficult to track because an estimated 80 percent of those who have the disease show no symptoms.
It represents a major threat to pregnant women, because Zika can cause birth defects. Seven children have been born with birth defects resulting from the virus in the United States, and more than a thousand in Latin America.
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Epidemiologist Justin Lessler reported evidence to NPR that the epidemic is subsiding. The main reason he gave for this is that a large proportion of the population is now immune due to infection.
“You can think of it like the forest after a giant fire,” Lessler told NPR. “All of the extra brush is gone, and it’s going to take a while before enough brush – or in the case of a disease, enough susceptible people – can build back up to support another fire.”
However, the researchers believe the epidemic in Latin America will continue for another 1.5 to 2 years, and remain a persistent threat in the U.S. for years to come.
But Alex Perkins, another epidemiologist, was more cautious about making long-term predictions based on computer models.
“It’s much like when you watch the nightly weather,” Perkins told NPR. “The weather people usually do a very good job of saying what the weather is going to be like tomorrow. But the longer time horizon you look at, the harder it is to predict what’s going to happen.”