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July 14, 2016 05:30 PM

The Zika outbreak will likely burn itself out in the next two to three years, based on the fact that people develop immunity to the virus.

Scientists from Imperial College London and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have published a new study suggesting that the Zika epidemic will have run its course in Latin America within three years, but only because so many people are being infected that the population will become immune to it.

“The current explosive epidemic will burn itself out due to a phenomenon called herd immunity,” lead researcher Neil Ferguson said. “Because the virus is unable to infect the same person twice – thanks to the immune system generating antibodies to kill it – the epidemic reaches a stage where there are too few people left to infect for transmission to be sustained.”

Currently, it’s estimated that millions of people in the Americas are infected with the disease, which can cause the birth defect microcephaly. In the continental U.S., there are over 1,000 people infected, a figure that includes 320 pregnant women. On Wednesday, the first in Texas with Zika-related microcephaly was born. Thursday, Congress failed to appropriate the $1.9 billion in funding to fight the disease the White House requested in February.

“The current epidemic is not containable,” Ferguson concluded. “At best, interventions can mitigate its health impacts. More optimistically, the natural dynamics of the epidemic are now likely to give a multiyear window to develop new interventions before further large-scale outbreaks occur.”

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