Saturday, July 16, 2016

Sexual Transmission of the Zika Virus

In healthy adults, the Zika virus causes only mild flu-like symptoms.  80% of infected adults never even know they are infected. However it's a dangerous virus nonetheless, because women who are infected during their pregnancies can give birth to infants with a birth defect called microcephaly.

When Zika first appeared in South America, it was believed that the virus was transmitted exclusively by mosquitoes that thrive in South American countries with warm, humid climates. However we now know that the Zika virus can be sexually transmitted. Until yesterday, all 14 documented cases of sexually transmitted infections in the U.S. had been caused by Zika-infected men (who infected their partners, either male or female). But now the CDC has reported the first documented case of transmission from an infected woman to her male partner in the U.S. The significance of sexual transmission is that it raises the possibility of an outbreak of Zika virtually anywhere in the world, not just in areas in which the Zika-transmitting mosquito is found.

Scientists are working feverishly on a vaccine to prevent Zika infections. It will take some time before one is available. In the meantime, pregnant women (and their male partners) should be aware of the dangers of traveling to countries where the Zika-transmitting mosquito is common.

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