U.S. health officials are investigating 14 new cases of the Zika virus outbreak. The 14 new Zika cases being investigated all involve men who visited areas experiencing Zika outbreaks. The women involved had not visited those areas. Two of the women who have been confirmed to have the virus are pregnant but their male partners have not yet been tested. According to the Guardian, health officials are still investigating whether the Zika infections can been spread through sex, but on Tuesday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that the virus can be spread from males to females during intercourse.
The Zika virus is mainly spread through mosquito bites, and many health officials are still trying to determine whether sexual transmission is a likely cause. The CDC has stated more research is needed to determine the way the virus is spread through sex and other varying factors. There have been two cases where the Zika virus has been found in semen, including a recent case in Texas. Several other cases, including one in 2008, have involved men that have traveled to infected areas and women who have not. In 2008, a malaria specialist who caught the Zika virus passed the infection to his wife shortly after his return to Colorado. His wife had not left Colorado and there were no mosquitoes in the area capable of carrying Zika. Experts concluded then that the only logical explanation was transmission through sex, but sex is yet to be confirmed as a definite cause of the spread. This leads researchers to believe that men may be able to pass the Zika infection to women but not the other way round. The CDC made the announcement on Tuesday.
“Zika virus can be spread by a man to his sex partners. In known cases of likely sexual transmission, the men had Zika symptoms. In one case, the virus was spread a few days before symptoms developed. The virus is present in semen longer than in blood.”
The CDC has now advised men who have visited the listed (below) areas with outbreaks to not have sex with pregnant women and to always wear a condom. They have also recommended trips by pregnant women to affected areas be postponed. The list of affected areas is steadily growing and now more then 30 destinations have been added to a list of areas experiencing the outbreak.
There is particular fear surrounding the Zika virus and pregnant women. Officials are investigating a possible connection between the virus and babies that are born with brain defects, abnormally small heads, and affected cognitive development. Scientists in Brazil have linked Zika to microcephaly birth defects in babies after confirming the presence of the Zika virus in the amniotic fluid of two women who had had Zika symptoms while pregnant.
In adults, the virus does not present severe or unique symptoms which is allowing the virus to spread quickly. Most of the people diagnosed have complained of fever, joint pain, rashes, and red eyes. The symptoms only last for about a week and are similar to those of dengue and chikungunya symptoms. The Zika virus is also spread by the same mosquitoes that transmit dengue and chikungunya. No cases have yet been confirmed but there is also fear that the Zika virus may cause a paralyzing condition in adults called Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Although there is fear that the 14 Zika cases are linked to sex, mosquito bites are still the main cause of infection, and steps should be taken to protect yourself from mosquitoes. There is no cure or vaccination yet and Margaret Chan, the head of the World Health Organization, said the world faced “a long journey” to defeat Zika and that it is a “very tricky, very tenacious, very difficult” virus.
The Zika virus has erupted across most of Latin America and the Caribbean within the last year with 82 Zika infections diagnosed in the U.S. All those affected traveled to these areas. The confirmed areas which women have been encouraged by the CDC not to travel to are:
- Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, US territory
- Costa Rica
- Dominican Republi
- El Salvador
- French Guiana
- Saint Martin
- Trinidad and Tobago
- U.S. Virgin Islands
- American Samoa
- Marshall Islands
- Cape Verde
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