Is There a New Way to Get Zika?
July 18, 2016 — The CDC is investigating a Zika mystery: how a Utah resident got the virus without traveling or sexual contact.
The new case is a relative and caregiver of an elderly Zika patient who died in late June. The deceased man had traveled to an area where Zika is spreading, and lab tests showed he had high amounts of the virus in his blood — more than 100,000 times higher than those seen in other samples of infected people, according to the CDC. He also had a medical condition, which has not been disclosed.
The new patient developed mild symptoms and rapidly recovered, said CDC officials in a news conference. Neither patient was identified.
“The new case in Utah is a surprise, showing that we still have more to learn about Zika,” said Erin Staples, MD, PhD, the CDC’s medical epidemiologist on the ground in Utah, in a news release.
Doctors don’t know if the virus was passed directly from nonsexual contact with bodily fluids like saliva or urine or whether it might have been spread indirectly, through the bite of an infected mosquito. Scientists have found the Zika virus in human blood, semen, saliva, urine, breast milk, swabs from the genital tract, and in fluid in the eye.
If it was passed through a mosquito bite, it would be the first case of local transmission documented in the U.S., but that possibility seems unlikely because Utah isn’t known to have the kinds of mosquitoes that are known to carry Zika.
“Right now we’re assessing whether any other kind of transmission could be occurring,” said Michael Bell, MD, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC.
An estimated 80% of people infected with Zika don’t show symptoms. The others may have a fever, joint pain, and red eyes (known as conjunctivitis). But Zika can wreak havoc on the unborn, causing devastating birth defects including microcephaly, in which babies have unusually small heads and brain damage.
As of July 7, nine babies with birth defects linked to Zika have been reported in the U.S., according to the CDC. Six other pregnancy losses with birth defects were linked to the virus.