The Zika Virus May Be a Bigger Deal Than We Thought

Models created by Northeastern researchers say 30,000 Americans may be infected.


Mosquito photo via

Already scared of the Zika virus? You may not want to read on.

The number of Zika cases reported by the CDC may be far too modest, according to computational models produced by Northeastern researchers. The CDC has estimated that the U.S. has seen roughly six locally acquired and 1,800 travel-related cases of Zika, but network scientist Alessandro Vespignani’s projections suggest that, actually, 30,000 Americans may have contracted the disease as of June 15, 2016. Estimates for Florida, California, Texas, Georgia, Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio, Indiana, and Oregon may be too low.

It’s important to note that Vespignani’s paper, published preprint last week, has not yet been peer-reviewed, meaning a journal has not sought experts to assess its legitimacy and scientific merits. (A Northeastern spokesman said the paper will be peer reviewed, but due to its time-sensitive nature, the researchers wanted to publish it as it undergoes that process.) As such, the paper may not be 100 percent airtight. If the models do indeed reflect reality, however, that means the CDC’s estimations only account for, oh, about 6 percent of U.S. Zika cases. Yikes.

Vespignani’s team used a data-driven epidemic model to map the spread of Zika since its outbreak in the Americas. They used this model to draft a report showing projections of the disease’s spread into January of next year. The interactive maps show that the virus has likely already peaked in Brazil, but it’s on pace to continue in many parts of Central America. Microcephaly, the birth defect associated with Zika, would then spread in tangent, they note.

Before you seek shelter in a cloud of bug spray, however, take a deep breath. The authors note that the risk of contracting Zika as a result of traveling to the Olympics is extremely small. If you’re not traveling, that risk is even lower.