By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Doctors across the Twin Cities keep hearing the same Good Question: Is the Zika virus still a concern for travelers?

“It’s falling off of people’s radar but the virus is still there, it hasn’t gone away,” says Dr. Jared Frandson, a family practice physician at the Fairview Uptown Clinic. “It’s exactly the same amount of a problem as it ever was.”

Two years ago, the Zika virus dominated the headlines with scary stories about the mosquito-spread virus causing birth defects in babies. Now, infectious disease experts say the risk is still there even if the news coverage isn’t.

“Once Zika has arrived, it’s something that’s going to stay,” says Elizabeth Schiffman, an epidemiologist at the Minnesota Department of Health.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) still advises pregnant women, their partners or couples planning to get pregnant not travel to: Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Central Africa, India, Pakistan and Southeast Asia.

After rounds of mosquito control, the CDC lifted their advisory about Florida in 2017.

“This means that there are no longer any travel recommendations related to Zika virus for Miami-Dade County,” says the CDC.

In 2016, there were 5,168 cases in the U.S. and most of them came from travelers who went abroad. In 2017, there were 427 cases. Experts say the decline could have been due to changes in weather, fewer mosquitoes or the fact that more people now have immunity to the virus.

That doesn’t mean, though, it’s not still a threat.

“It’s always a risk, but some years it’s higher than others,” says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Mosquito-borne viruses have up and down years and are difficult to predict. For example, Osterholm points out, yellow fever hasn’t been a problem in years, but there’s now a major outbreak in Brazil. That means doctors and CDC are advising people not to take chances with Zika.

“That’s the thing, seasonally it could change,” says Dr. Frandson. “Mosquitoes don’t obey rules.”

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