Zika has been nudged off the front pages of newspapers and scarcely receives a whisper on the evening news anymore.

The medical scare of 2016 has faded in memory, with health officials waiting for the next frightening contagion.

But like any hearty virus, Zika still is out there.

"It's still there, and it's important people remain vigilant to protect themselves from mosquito bites in areas where Zika is being locally transmitted," said Benjamin N. Haynes, spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Since January 2015, there have been 5,381 cases of Zika virus infection in the United States: 5,109 cases were found in travelers returning from infected areas, 224 the result of local transmission and 48 acquired through other routes, such as sexual transmission, Haynes said.

In 2017, there have been 185 cases of Zika virus infection reported, he said.

The decline in cases can be attributed to several things, most notably greater awareness by the general public and states making more of an effort to eradicate mosquito populations, he said. Also, people are immune once they are bitten, he added.

The symptoms of the mosquito-borne illness often are mild, with a fever, muscle pain and headache, so most people don't get it diagnosed.

"Most people who have the Zika virus don't even know they have it," he said.

It rarely causes death, but there is no vaccination or cure.

The most serious concern to health officials is that Zika is believed to cause microcephaly, or children born with abnormally small heads and incomplete brain development.

So, women who are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant are advised to avoid areas where Zika is common. Another issue is the disease hides in the body's tissues where it is protected from the immune system. It can then be transmitted through sex and passed to the fetus.

Just how long it hides in the human body is unknown, Haynes said. So pregnant women or those looking to get pregnant -- or their sexual partners who have traveled to a territory where Zika infections are prevalent -- should wait six months before trying to conceive.

Still, all people are required to take precautions when traveling anywhere with a history of Zika outbreaks, Haynes said.

"We're not to the levels we had last year, but there's still room for concern," he said.

The good news for central Ohioans is there's never been a locally acquired case of Zika, said Mitzi Kline, spokeswoman for Franklin County Public Health.

In 2016, there were 14 cases of travel-acquired cases of Zika in Columbus and Franklin County, compared to just two this year, Kline said.

That's no reason for people to let down their guard, especially now -- the peak of mosquito season, she said.

"We're continuing to watch the situation both in our country and outside the U.S.," Kline said.

And there are other potential threats out there, such as chikungunya and dengue, also spread by mosquitoes, that are being monitored by health officials.

"We have all kinds of infectious disease that come and go," Kline said.

gseman@thisweknews.com

@ThisWeekGary