Dallas County Gets Its First Case of Sexually Transmitted Zika Virus

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed the first case of the Zika virus, contracted through sex, in a Dallas County resident in 2016. The virus, which causes a relatively minor illness in adults, has tentatively been linked to birth defects in the children of infected women. At least 4,000 cases of microcephaly, in which infants are born with underdeveloped brains and abnormally small heads, have been reported in Brazil since October, although not all have been confirmed. The rash of cases prompted the World Health Organization to declare a global public health emergency, the BBC News reported Monday, putting efforts to combat the disease on the same footing as Ebola.

The Dallas County case is unusual in that the virus is most often spread through mosquito bites. The local patient "was infected with the virus after having sexual contact with an ill individual who returned from a country where Zika virus is present," Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Zachary Thompson said in a news release Tuesday afternoon. Only two other cases of sexual transmission have been documented, according to news reports.

Thompson says part of the danger is that 80 percent of people infected with the virus are asymptomatic, meaning travelers to one of 20 nations where the virus has been found in mosquitoes could unknowingly infect a sexual partner. DCCHS could not say where the sexual partner of the Dallas patient had traveled, because of confidentiality rules.

“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,” Thompson said. “Next to abstinence, condoms are the best prevention method against any sexually transmitted infections.”

He also urged anyone traveling in a Zika infested area to take care to avoid mosquito bites. 

While Dallas County has not seen any reported cases of Zika being spread locally by mosquito bites, the Aedes mosquito that carries the virus is found here, so it's possible that the virus could find its way to the mosquito population here by biting an infected person. The DCCHS called on travelers who show signs of infection — fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis — to have themselves tested and to take precautions against mosquito bites.
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Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams