Fourteen people in the US may have been infected with the Zika virus through sexual contact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced today — and some of those people are pregnant women. Although sexual transmission of the virus happens, it's rare; most people are infected through mosquito bites. So far, only two cases of sexual transmission have been confirmed worldwide.
"Zika virus infection has been confirmed in [two] women whose only known risk factor was sexual contact with an ill male partner who had recently traveled to an area with local Zika virus transmission," the CDC said in a statement. The agency hasn’t yet confirmed that the virus was sexually transmitted in these two cases because scientists are still waiting for tests results from their male partners. The agency suspects 12 other cases of sexual transmission, and has preliminary lab evidence for four of them.
"Women whose only known risk factor was sexual contact"
There have been about 90 cases of Zika in the US so far — and almost all of them were acquired abroad. The virus is relatively harmless for most people, but authorities worry that it may be linked to birth defects. That’s because in early 2015, Brazil experienced an outbreak of the virus that coincided with a steep increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly — a condition that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads. And although a link between the two conditions hasn’t yet been confirmed, authorities around the world have called for caution. People who are infected rarely die from the illness, and only about 20 percent of people actually experience symptoms. Those who do develop the illness sometimes experience mild fevers, rashes, joint pain, and conjunctivitis; these symptoms last about a week. Currently, there’s no vaccine or treatment for the virus.
Pregnant women and men with pregnant partners who have traveled to areas with Zika should talk to their doctors, the CDC says. The agency also recommends that men who are at risk for Zika should wear condoms during sex if their partners are pregnant — or abstain from sex during the pregnancy. Scientists don’t know how long the virus persists in semen, but a recent report suggests that traces of the virus can still be found in semen 62 days after a man develops symptoms.