A year ago, the mosquito-borne Zika virus was only beginning to reveal itself as a threat to pregnant women and their unborn babies.
Over the past year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took the extraordinary step of urging pregnant women to avoid travel to dozens of mainly Latin American countries to stave off infection with the Zika virus. With inclement weather prompting Americans to muse about winter vacations in sunny climes, the CDC wants to make it clear: That recommendation still stands.
Since then, U.S. officials have issued 60 travel alerts along with guidance for athletes and tourists traveling to the Olympics in Rio. They have also deployed more than 1,000 experts to Puerto Rico and elsewhere, tested more than 147,000 lab specimens, initiated 25 major studies and issued more than 230 scientific publications.
"We do want to emphasize that this will be the new normal until there's a [Zika] vaccine. That if you're pregnant, you should not go to a place where Zika is spreading," Frieden told STAT in a year-end interview on the agency's Zika response. "I think there's a misconception that Zika is either over or was never a serious problem. It's a devastating problem for families and individuals."
The Zika outbreak has been an extraordinarily taxing one for the CDC, Frieden noted, leading to a number of firsts for the agency.
Severe birth defects in isolated places have exploded into a full-blown crisis once the Zika outbreak was documented. While the virus was first identified back in 1947, it only reached the health spotlight in 2016, after starting to affect children in 2015.
What makes this virus difficult to fight is the lack of symptoms. At best, there are some scarce indicators, such as fever or headaches, which can be easily attributed to other causes, leaving the people affected by it with very few choices concerning the identification of its installation in the body.