The Zika virus, which is spread by mosquitos and linked to serious birth defects, has been transmitted within the United States. (Photo: Getty Images)
A person in Dallas County, Texas, has contracted the Zika virus through sexual contact with an infected person who had visited a country where an outbreak has been identified. Local health officials confirmed via the Dallas County Health and Human Services Twitter account, writing “Dallas County’s 1st case of #Zika thru sex was acquired from someone who traveled to Venezuela, confirmed case did not travel.”
Several cases of Zika virus had been confirmed across the United States, but only among people who were believed to have contracted the virus while traveling abroad in countries with active Zika virus outbreaks. The case in Dallas is the first time that experts believe a person with Zika symptoms contracted the virus within the United States.
Related: Four Zika Cases Found In New York Among Returning Travelers
Prior to the case in Dallas, experts did not know whether the virus could be spread through sexual contact. “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,” Zachary Thompson, Dallas County Health and Human Services director, said in a statement.
Experts expect the Dallas patient to recovery fully. “Only 1 out of 5 people is going to exhibit symptoms, and for most of them it’s going to be extremely mild — a little fever, a little rash, a little joint pain,” says William E. Schweizer, MD, MPH, clinical associate professor and medical director, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, NYU Langone Medical Center, in an interview with Yahoo Health.
What You Need to Know About Zika
Fever, joint aches, a mild skin rash, and reddened eyes (similar to pinkeye) are the key symptoms. “It’s the conjunctivitis, the red eyes, that I think is a little more unique than what you see with the flu or a cold,” Schweizer tells Yahoo Health.
“What we know about the virus so far is that it’s a mild, short-lasting virus. Some people can actually have the virus and not even realize it, or not get very sick at all,” says Angela Vassallo, MPH, MS, director of infection prevention and epidemiologist atProvidence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, in an interview with Yahoo Health.
The symptoms can be similar to the flu, Vassallo adds. “Fever is very common, a mild and simple rash in the beginning, itchy eyes, and joint pain are the main symptoms,” she says. “What’s difficult about some of these symptoms when they initially present is that they can seem like another virus or illness.”
As for a U.S. outbreak, Vassallo says, “Because Zika is a mosquito-borne disease, it’s very unlikely that we’ll have high numbers of transmission within the U.S. However, we know that the mosquitos that transmit the virus have been seen in the southern U.S. where it is hot and humid. I do not expect it to be as widespread as what we’ve seen in Brazil.”
Birth defects associated with the Zika virus. (Image: Graphiq)
The Zika virus has been linked to serious birth defects, including microcephaly, a condition where infants are born with abnormally small heads. The disease has not been proven conclusively to cause microcephaly.
“I think we need more research, especially in regards to pregnant women and women who are thinking of getting pregnant,” Vassallo tells Yahoo Health. “We don’t know enough yet to make definitive statements. There’s a whole lot more we need to know.”
Related: Brazil Is Struggling with Children Born with Microcephaly
Schweizer says that doctors are already screening pregnant women for the disease using ultrasounds and other technology. “Currently our recommendation is that if a pregnant woman has been to an exposed area, we’re going to be doing sequential ultrasonography evaluation of the baby, specifically looking at the brain, the head circumference, and calcifications that may be indicitave of a supposed Zika infection,” Schweizer tells Yahoo Health.
A blood test is available to screen for Zika, but it is controlled through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Schweizer explains. The blood test is limited, though, because it can only detect the Zika virus during a window of three to seven days after the onset of symptoms.
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