An unsettling discovery was made in Texas this week when a patient was found to have contracted the Zika virus through sexual activity – not a mosquito bite. The infection that has been sweeping its way through Latin America was thought to only be transmitted through specific mosquito species’ bites, yet this new finding changes everything.
According to The New York Times, the Dallas County Health and Human Services Department has reported that someone who had sex with an infected person, who recently visited Venezuela, has contracted the virus. Venezuela is one of the many countries where the Zika virus is spreading. While this may come as a shock, some scientists had already deduced this possibility based on a case from 2008, in which a researcher returned from Africa to Colorado and passed on the Zika virus to his wife – but not his four children. The only explanation was that the virus was contracted through sex. French scientists also discovered viable Zika virus in the semen of a man who had bounced back from the infection in 2013.
Zachary Thompson, director at Dallas’ health department, says, “This increases our awareness campaign in educating the public about protecting themselves and others” and encourages the public to practice safe sex to avoid STIs. Many countries south of the US have already resorted to asking people not to become pregnant until the epidemic has been contained, considering the high risk of fetuses developing the birth defect microcephaly. It is unclear at this time what kind of effect the news of the virus being sexually transmitted will have on health agencies and their pleas to the public.