Confirmation that the Zika Virus can be spread as an STD was found in Dallas, Texas, when an unnamed person was infected by means of sexual contact with someone who had recently visited one of the countries where the virus is picking up speed.
The Zika virus has now seen millions of cases worldwide, a large portion of which are in the South American country of Brazil. Its neighbors, like Argentina and Venezuela, have also seen an alarming spread in their tropical regions where mosquitoes flourish. The possibility of Zika being an STD could, however, expand its reach even further as vacationers return to their home countries and unknowingly spread the virus.
As with many STDs, Zika does not manifest symptoms in everyone. That makes its containment especially difficult; the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that only one in five people infected with Zika will show any signs of illness. Among those who do manifest symptoms, many will simply brush it off: fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes) typically begin within a week of receiving the offending mosquito bite, if at all.
While efforts to combat Zika have largely focused on avoiding having your blood sucked by summer pests, confirmation of its STD qualities may force public education to keep people from engaging in sexual activity with those who may have been infected. In a statement announcing the case, Dallas County Health and Human Services (DCHHS) director Zachary Thompson noted that health officials would be adding the STD warning to their outreach program, reported Time.
“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.”
Previously, there had already been suspicions that Zika could be transmitted sexually, though public health officials were hesitant to call it an STD. On Monday, Professor Stephen Morse, who has served on several international boards to monitor emerging diseases, answered questions in a Reddit AMA about the virus, one of which was about whether or not it could be called an STD.
“There is one really well documented case sexual transmission from male to female. That was a researcher who was studying Zika in Polynesia and came back to the U.S., fell ill with Zika, and his wife became infected shortly afterward. There has been one other case, but the evidence isn’t quite as strong.”
The newest revelation about Zika virus being spread as an STD is just one of many strides that researches have made in identifying the properties of the illness in recent weeks. Many details have still remained clouded. For instance, Morse noted that officials are still not sure how long Zika can stay in someone’s system or whether or not they will have lifelong immunity afterward.
Strong suspicion that Zika leads to severe brain defects in newborns prompted the World Health Organization to declare a global public health emergency on Monday before the Dallas STD confirmation, reported the Washington Post. Microcephaly, a cerebral deformation affecting babies, has been concentrated in areas where Zika is spreading. More than 4,000 cases have been reported in Brazil, with the infection found in 270 of the infants. It is feared that in Latin America countries, where birth rates are high and access to abortion and contraception are low, a wave of deformations could be seen in nine months.
Recommendations to prevent the spread of Zika virus as an STD appear to the same as for other such infections — use of contraceptives to avoid contact with bodily fluids and getting tested when returning from regions hit hardest.
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