BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombian health officials declared yesterday that the worst of a Zika outbreak in the Andean nation had passed just 10 months after its arrival, raising questions about how the virus is affecting parts of Latin America differently.
Vice Health Minister Fernando Ruiz told journalists that the number of infections in Colombia has been falling by 600 cases a week.
While Zika is still circulating in the country, Colombia considers the drop-off sufficient to say it has moved into an endemic phase from the epidemic phase.
“We can declare that the epidemic is ended. Colombia is the first country on the American continent to declare an end to the epidemic,” Ruiz said.
Zika has struck hardest in Brazil, where the outbreak was first detected last year, and has since spread rapidly through the Americas.
The disease can cause the devastating birth defect microcephaly, a condition defined by abnormally small head size which can lead to severe developmental problems in infants, as well as other neurological problems. Brazil has reported more than 1,600 cases of microcephaly linked to Zika, a spike not replicated elsewhere to date.
Colombia’s Zika outbreak has been closely monitored by infectious disease experts to understand whether the virus will affect other countries in a similar manner to Brazil. Colombia has reported nearly 100,000 cases of infection, with 21 cases of Zika-related microcephaly.
Some disease experts say they are reluctant to say the worst of the outbreak has passed in Colombia, particularly with mosquito season due to resume in the country within a few months, and the many unknowns surrounding the first mosquito-borne virus that can also be transmitted through sexual contact.