November 14, 2016
Written by T. Alex Perkins, Amir S. Siraj, Corrine W. Ruktanonchai, Moritz U. G. Kraemer & Andrew J. Tatem
Zika virus is a mosquito-borne pathogen that is rapidly spreading across the Americas. Due to associations between Zika virus infection and a range of fetal maladies1,2, the epidemic trajectory of this viral infection poses a significant concern for the nearly 15 million children born in the Americas each year. Ascertaining the portion of this population that is truly at risk is an important priority. One recent estimate3 suggested that 5.42 million childbearing women live in areas of the Americas that are suitable for Zika occurrence. To improve on that estimate, which did not take into account the protective effects of herd immunity, we developed a new approach that combines classic results from epidemiological theory with seroprevalence data and highly spatially resolved data about drivers of transmission to make location-specific projections of epidemic attack rates. Our results suggest that 1.65 (1.45–2.06) million childbearing women and 93.4 (81.6–117.1) million people in total could become infected before the first wave of the epidemic concludes. Based on current estimates of rates of adverse fetal outcomes among infected women2,4,5, these results suggest that tens of thousands of pregnancies could be negatively impacted by the first wave of the epidemic. These projections constitute a revised upper limit of populations at risk in the current Zika epidemic, and our approach offers a new way to make rapid assessments of the threat posed by emerging infectious diseases more generally.