US health authorities have confirmed that a case of Zika virus has been transmitted sexually. This comes a day after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the spread of the virus as an international public health emergency.
The US health authorities say that the first known case of Zika virus transmission in the country was reported in Texas on Tuesday and they claimed that it was contracted through sex and not a mosquito bite.
“With Zika we don’t know exactly how long someone can remain infectious but in this case as we understand it, someone had just gotten sick with Zika. And that individual’s sexual partner then developed Zika without a travel history. The CDC laboratory confirmed that both individuals do have recent Zika infection,” said Dr Tom Frieden, Director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The virus which is linked to severe birth defects in thousands of babies in Brazil, is spreading rapidly in the Americas. WHO has also expressed concern that the disease could spread to Africa and Asia as well.
Until now, Zika was considered to have been a mosquito-borne disease, spread by the bite of mosquitoes of the Aedes genus found mostly in tropical climates. This new development that Zika can be sexually transmitted, comes as an alarm to countries like United States, Canada and Europe, where Zika had so far only appeared in travellers returning from affected areas.
Even though the Dallas County Health and Human Services confirmed the development, the Texas Department of State Health Services was slightly more cautious in its assessment.
“Case details are being evaluated, but the possibility of sexual transmission from an infected person to a non-infected person is likely in this case,” said the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The county authorities also confirmed that there were no reports of the virus being transmitted by mosquitoes in the Texas county.
Meanwhile, Pan American Health Organisation said more evidence was needed to confirm sexual contact as a means of Zika transmission.
So far, Zika virus has been reported in more than 30 countries, especially in Latin America and has been linked to microcephaly, a condition in which babies have abnormally small heads and improperly developed brains.
Brazil has reported over 3,700 suspected cases of microcephaly whereas Ecuador announced that they have 22 confirmed cases of Zika, including one pregant woman.
(With inputs from agencies)