The mysterious illness is spread through mosquito bites—but there has now been confirmation of a case in Texas transmitted through sex. Here's how to stay safe.
We learn a little bit more about the scary Zika virus every day, but the most recent piece of news might be the scariest we've heard yet: While we previously thought the virus could only be spread via mosquito bites, it turns out there's been a confirmed case that was transmitted through sexual contact. On February 23, we learned that the CDC is investigating 14 possible cases of sexually trasmitted Zika - which means it might be even more likely trasnmitted by sexual activity than we thought.
According to health officials, two cases of the virus have been reported in Dallas. One of these victims contracted the virus after sexual contact with a person who had been infected while traveling in Venezuela, where the virus is being spread via mosquito bites.
We've already reported that the Zika virus can have serious repercussions if a pregnant woman is infected—the virus has been linked to microcephaly, which can present as an abnormally small head in the baby of an infected pregnant woman—so in addition to avoiding travel to the affected areas (as recommended by the CDC), it's also important that you exercise caution when having sex with a partner who might have travelled to an affected area.
While Zika stays in the blood for about a week, scientists don't know how long Zika can live in semen.
"Now that we know Zika virus can be transmitted through sex, this increases our awareness campaign in educating the public about protecting themselves and others," Zachary Thompson, DCHHS director, said in a statement. "Next to abstinence, condoms are the best prevention method against any sexually-transmitted infections."
The CDC suggested that women with partners who have travelled to an area where Zika is spreading use condoms or abstain from sex throughout the duration of pregnancy.
The Zika virus has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization. In addition to the serious dangers it can pose for pregnant women, it's also been reported the illness is linked to Guillian-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disease that can cause temporary paralysis. Despite the fact that many Zika victims don't exhibit any symptoms, it's important that we protect ourselves against the mounting dangers associated with it.
There are currently no reports of Zika being transmitted through mosquitos in the United States. If you're sexually active, it would be smart to have your partner or partners screened for the virus, which is detectable with a blood test. A new study looked at saliva, blood and urine samples from two people with suspected cases of the virus - one person was a man who had visited Brazil, the other a woman with whom he had sex. They did not detect traces of the virus in the man's blood or urine but found large amounts in his semen. This indicates that is likely the mode of transmition.