Patient in Dallas caught disease from partner who had visited infected country
Health officials have confirmed that the first Zika virus contracted in the US was passed on through sexual contact.
So far, 31 people in the US have been diagnosed with the mosquito-borne virus, but the infected person, who has not been named, is believed to be the first to contract Zika without visiting one of the nations where the disease is running rampant.
“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, the director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, told Sky News.
He also stressed the importance of using condoms to prevent the spread of the disease.
Zika’s symptoms are relatively mild and include sensitivity to light, joint pain and fever. The major concern is the virus’s ability to infect the amniotic fluid of pregnant women, which can lead to birth defects. In affected countries, cases of microcephaly – a condition where a baby is born with an undersized head and brain – have increased sharply since the virus was first detected in May 2015. In the worst affected areas of Brazil, the BBC reports that one per cent of all newborns are diagnosed with microcephaly – nearly 4,000 infants in total.
Women in El Salvador have been advised to put off pregnancy until 2018 – a tall order in a nation where contraception is frowned upon and abortion totally outlawed. Similar advice has been issued in Colombia and Ecuador.
While cases of the Zika virus have been identified since the 1950s, the latest outbreak is becoming increasingly difficult to contain. The virus first appeared in May, in Brazil, and has since been detected in 35 countries in the Americas and Caribbean.
The World Health Organisation says the virus is “spreading explosively” and has declared a global public health emergency on the same scale as the Ebola outbreak that claimed more than 11,000 lives in West Africa between 2013 and 2016.