Zika infection and oral sex have been linked, but can it be transmitted by just kissing? After the first “Zika baby” was born in the United States in New Jersey, French researchers have written about a case of apparent transmission of the Zika virus and corresponding infection via oral sex.
A team of researchers based in Paris, France, wrote a letter to the editor that was just published in the New England Journal of Medicine describing a case where the Zika virus is linked to oral sex and kissing. The letter describes the case of a 24-year-old woman who was infected by the Zika virus after having oral sex with a 46-year-old man who had been in Brazil for several weeks prior to their relationship.
Both were tested for the Zika virus after the woman’s symptoms began to show. The man, who had experienced symptoms of infection while he was in Brazil, tested positive for the Zika virus in semen and urine – but not in his blood. It means that even after active symptoms of the illness have cleared up, patients remain infected with the virus and can, in turn, infect others. In this case, the letter concludes that the exact mode of transmission cannot be determined with precision.
“We cannot rule out the possibility that transmission occurred not through semen but through other biologic fluids, such as pre-ejaculate secretions or saliva exchanged through deep kissing.”
Obama’s $1.8 billion Zika prevention plan
As reported by the Orlando Sentinel, President Obama’s $1.8 billion plan to combat the Zika virus with mosquito control measures and Zika preparedness kits by using emergency funds is currently stalled as Congress takes a two-week break.
The Zika baby recently born in New Jersey has microcephaly, which is characterized by an abnormally small head. The condition has been strongly associated with the Zika virus. There are about 1,500 pregnant women in the U.S. with the Zika virus, according to CBS News.
Microcephaly births have reached epidemic proportions in Brazil, with 2,500 cases expected this year alone. Officials fear that with the coming of summer, when mosquitoes thrive throughout the U.S., the Zika virus will spread even more than it already has. Window screens and the use of air conditioning can cut down the risk, however, it also means that poor people without access to those amenities are at a higher risk.
The Zika virus is typically carried via mosquito bite, however, measures that only target mosquitoes may not be enough, as the French case illustrates. More and more, researchers are having to consider the risk of sexual transmission.
First case of a baby born with microcephaly from Zika in continental U.S.— AJ+ (@ajplus) June 1, 2016
A look at the virus: https://t.co/8Cez0ELtD3
Zika, oral sex and kissing – are you at risk?
A single reported case of Zika virus transmission via oral sex, where the disease itself was resolved within a week or so in both patients and no pregnancy was involved, may seem insignificant. However, as a New York Times story points out, until 2016, there had only been a single case of Zika virus via sexual transmission reported anywhere in the world.
Since the beginning of this year, researchers have had to include sexual transmission – and now oral sex – as a major pathway for the Zika virus. Cases of Zika infection have been reported in several countries where mosquitoes have not tested positive for the virus, pointing the finger at other avenues of infection. Zika transmission via sexual contact has been reported in the U.S., Canada, France, Italy, and several other countries.
Dr. William Schaffner, the head of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical School, is quoted by the New York Times as saying, “I don’t think this changes anything, but it shows you how elaborate the number of avenues of possible transmission can be.”
Should you be worried about kissing? If it’s just a peck on the cheek, then the experts say probably not. Dr. John T. Brooks, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who is currently studying sexual transmission of the Zika virus, spoke to the New York Times.
“Casual kissing has got to be safe because, if it weren’t, don’t you think we’d see a lot more Zika? Every mom who kissed her baby would pass it on.”
The Zika virus, oral sex, and kissing may not add up to a huge risk, but whether the president’s Zika plan passes through Congress or not this summer, it’s clear that caution and prevention are the best watchwords going forward.
[Image via Kateryna Kon/Shutterstock]