Infected travelers reveal Cuba’s ‘hidden’ Zika outbreak

Source: Science Magazine

As Zika virus raced through the Americas and the Caribbean in 2015 and 2016, it infected an estimated 800,000 people and left nearly 4000 newborns with serious brain damage. But by mid-2017, the virus had all but disappeared from the region—or so it seemed. A new analysis of Zika-infected travelers who returned to the United States or Europe in 2017 or 2018 has found that 98% had visited Cuba, which did not report any cases to world health officials at the time the country’s outbreak apparently peaked.

“It was startling,” says Kristian Andersen, a genomic epidemiologist at Scripps Research in San Diego, California, who led the work conducted by 38 researchers from five countries. The group estimates that Cuba had 5707 unreported Zika cases, with most occurring in 2017. Those numbers are similar to counts in other Caribbean islands with comparable populations 1 year earlier.

In February 2016, the Zika outbreak was so severe in South America and the Caribbean that the World Health Organization (WHO) took the rare step of declaring it a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. But by November 2016, cases in the region had fallen steeply and WHO lifted the emergency.