Zika, the virus rapidly spreading through Central and South America, has landed in the United States. Texas has confirmed a case of the virus by sexual contact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Learn more about it below.
A Dallas County Health and Human Services statement was released saying, “The patient was infected with the virus after having sexual contact with an ill individual who returned from a country where Zika virus is present.”
This finding confirms that the virus can spread through sexual contact, as opposed to just coming from a mosquito in another country like earlier reports suggested.
In Brazil, an estimated 1 million people have been infected by Zika. The virus has spread to 23 countries in South and Central America in the last year.
The outbreak is mysteriously linked to an epidemic of microcephaly in infants (i.e. small head and brain). This birth defect was declared a health emergency by the World Health Organization.
Zika infections were only confirmed by genetic testing—until now. Officials reported that the sexual transmission happened by someone who had traveled from Venezuela to a patient in the United States who had not traveled overseas.
Health officials are harping on the importance of wearing condoms to prevent transmission of the virus. While the disease is largely spread through mosquitoes, the confirmation of the ability of sexual transmission adds an entire new risk to the outbreak.
Experts still don’t know how long the virus stays in semen after infection and are working on finding that out.
The virus stays alive in saliva for some time after infection, which raises the risk of another way of transmitting the disease.
Regardless, mosquitos remain the biggest threat.
“Mosquitoes are a really effective way to spread a disease, especially in places that don’t have screened windows and air conditioning,” Andrew Haddow of the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases said.
Zika has also been confirmed in Australia. Two Sydney residents who have recently returned from the Caribbean have been infected.
Zika has also been found in two unrelated cases in Ireland.
The United Kingdom has also announced that people will not be able to donate blood for 28 days after returning from a Zika-affected country.
It is suspected that 76 infants have died from microcephaly.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Preventions recommends that if you must visit a Zika-infected region, you avoid mosquitos and, if you are pregnant, to postpone travel altogether.