Update 2/3/2016: Dallas confirmed its first case of the Zika virus that sexually transmitted from someone who had recently traveled to and from Venezuela. CDC Director Tom Frieden told CNN, “The virus is in the blood for about a week. How long it would remain in the semen is something that needs to be studied and we’re working on that now.”
1/27/2016: The Zika virus is spreading and people are starting to get scared. With warnings in some Latin American countries about women getting pregnant and warnings in the U.S. about travel to these countries, the virus isn’t going away anytime soon. And now it seems it is not spread by mosquitoes alone.
The Zika virus has been known to be spread by mosquitoes and causes birth defects in newborns. Microcephaly, a congenital brain condition that causes underdevelopment of the brain or head, or both, is the biggest danger for unborn children whose mothers contract it. It is a mild virus for people who are not pregnant in most (though not all) cases.
But now it seems Zika may also be transferred through sex.
The New York Times reports that there are at least two cases in which the virus has been transferred via sexual intercourse and acts like an STD in that way. It seems that researchers and people working in the region have documented at least two cases in which there is no other way the disease could have been contracted. One man brought it home to his wife and, horrifyingly, had blood in his semen.
Doctors say it is still far too early to focus on the sexual transmission and are focused mostly on the main means of transmission: the bites of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. This is a common insect found in subtropical climates. The risk is substantial enough that pregnant women are being warned not to travel to Bolivia, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Martin, Suriname, Samoa, Venezuela and Puerto Rico.
What does all this mean for us? It’s hard to say. The sexual transmission news is frightening, though, because certainly that puts even those of us up here in the north with three feet of snow burying even the most intrepid of mosquitoes, at risk. And as someone who is headed to Central America in three weeks, I am personally stressed by the virus in general.
Still, doctors are warning us not to get too caught up in the STD factor.
“At the moment we need to be more concerned with the mosquito, the vector known for transmitting the virus,” Dr. Márcio Nehab, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at Fiocruz, a research institute in Rio de Janeiro, told The New York Times. And in at least one of the cases of sexual transmission, there was no other means of transmission. In other words, no one else in the family contracted the disease even after close contact with the infected parties.
Still, this is a scary reality for travelers and pregnant women all over the world.