Zika epidemic likely to 'burn itself out' within 2 or 3 years

Researchers suggest there will not be another major epidemic of the virus for at least another 10 years

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In this file photo, a female Aedes aegypti mosquito acquires a blood meal on the arm of a researcher at the Biomedical Sciences Institute in the Sao Paulo's University in Sao Paulo, Brazil | Image: Andre Penner / AP/Press Association Images

The current Zika virus epidemic is likely to 'burn itself out' within two or three years, scientists have suggested.

In a study published in the journal Science, researchers also say they do not believe there will be another large scale outbreak of the virus for at least 10 years.

Imperial College London Professor Neil Ferguson, lead author of the research, said: "This study uses all available data to provide an understanding of how the disease will unfold - and allows us to gauge the threat in the imminent future.

"Our analysis suggests that Zika spread is not containable, but that the epidemic will burn itself out within 2-3 years."

Professor Ferguson also told The Guardian that the estimate includes the year or so of high transmission we have already seen.

The current epidemic - which has been centered around Latin America - is expected to 'burn out' due to so-called 'herd mentality', the researchers explain.

The virus is unable to infect the same person twice, and so there comes a point when there are fewer and fewer people prone to infection.

The current epidemic was declared a global emergency in February.

Zika has been linked to serious birth defects including microcephaly - where babies are born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains.

The majority of those infected with the virus have no symptoms. However, the virus can cause a mild illness with symptoms such as a rash or fever.

The epidemic has led to some concerns over the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio.