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Dallas County Patient Contracted Zika Virus Through Sexual Contact, Officials Say

The Zika virus is transmitted to people by mosquitoes.

A Dallas County patient has been infected with the Zika virus after having sex, county health officials say.

It's the first case of Zika contracted in Texas, state health officials say. 

The patient became infected after having sexual contact with someone who was ill and had returned from a country where the Zika virus is present, county health officials say. That’s the first U.S. case of sexually-transmitted Zika related to the recent outbreak in Central and South America, federal officials say.

The county on Tuesday announced a second person had contracted Zika, although it wasn't transmitted sexually. The second patient had traveled to Venezuela and was diagnosed with the virus after returning to Texas. 

“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,” Zachary Thompson, Dallas County Health and Human Services director, said in a statement. “Next to abstinence, condoms are the best prevention method against any sexually-transmitted infections.”

The patient who contracted Zika through sex is not a pregnant woman, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. There have been reports in Brazil of babies with birth defects whose mothers were infected with the Zika virus, although researchers are still studying the cause of the defects. 

Investigators have been exploring the possibility the virus also can be spread through sex. It was found in one man's semen in Tahiti, and there was report of a Colorado researcher who caught the virus overseas and apparently spread it to his wife back home in 2008.

The Zika virus is usually transmitted to people by mosquitoes. Health officials note there are no reports of Zika being transmitted by mosquitoes in Dallas County.

State health officials say there are several other Zika cases in Texas, all related to foreign travel where the virus is active. 

The most common symptoms of the virus are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis, according to health officials. The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting several days to a week.

Earlier this week, the World Health Organization declared the Zika virus to be a public health emergency. NPR reports:

Dr. Margaret Chan, the WHO's director-general, said during a press briefing Monday that an international coordinated response was needed to improve mosquito control as well as to expedite the development of tests that detect the Zika virus.   The declaration is chiefly important to intensify the efforts to prove that the Zika virus is causing microcephaly, a birth defect in which babies are born with abnormally small heads. Essentially, Chan said, if the Zika virus was not thought to be causing these problems in newborns, it would not be a "clinically serious condition."

What we know about Zika

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has this information about the Zika virus:

  • About 1 in 5 people infected with Zika virus become ill.
  • The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week.
  • Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon. Deaths are rare.
  • In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil. The outbreak in Brazil led to reports of Guillain-Barré syndrome and pregnant women giving birth to babies with birth defects and poor pregnancy outcomes.
  • CDC has issued travel notices for people traveling to regions and certain countries where Zika virus transmission is ongoing.

Zika and pregnancy

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information about Zika and pregnancy:

  • CDC has issued a travel notice (Level 2-Practice Enhanced Precautions) for people traveling to regions and certain countries where Zika virus transmission is ongoing.
  • There are reports in Brazil of microcephaly and other poor pregnancy outcomes in babies of mothers who were infected with Zika virus while pregnant. However, additional studies are needed to further characterize this relationship. More studies are planned to learn more about the risks of Zika virus infection during pregnancy.

Zika on "Think"

Earlier today on KERA's "Think," host Krys Boyd talked about Zika with Dr. Seema Yasmin, an infectious disease specialist who also writes about health for The Dallas Morning News. We'll have the interview online later this afternoon.

On the Zika frontlines

Dr. David Vanderpool, who was raised and educated in Dallas, has seen the toll that Zika is taking In Haiti. He talked with KERA’s Lauren Silverman about Zika and said we should be paying close attention to the virus.

Vanderpool says we should keep things in perspective in terms of the possible link between Zika and developmental problems in babies. 

"One thing I do want to underscore — that is an association it has not been proven at all," Vanderpool told KERA."In fact, some of the research that’s been done a very small percentage of those babies had the Zika virus present. So I don’t want people to get too worried about that until we know a lot more."

Read more of our interview with Vanderpool here.