The Zika virus has now been reported as have been transmitted through sex between two gay men, by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC said a case of sexual transmission that occurred in Dallas in January that was reported in the media in early February — involved two men.
The findings were published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the authors are from the Dallas County Health Department and the CDC.
The case involved a man who traveled to Venezuela, where Zika is spreading, who returned to the U.S. after contracting the virus and spread it to his male partner of more than 10 years.
The couple engaged in anal sex the day the one that travelled returned and then a day after he recovered from symptoms. The two did not use protection. When they developed symptoms, which included a fever, pink-eye and rash, the went to medical partitioner suspect Zika. He collected a urine, blood, saliva, semen sample.
Initially the virus was not detected but a more thorough analysis detected it in the sample given by the man who travelled.
“Zika virus can be transmitted through anal sex, as well as vaginal sex,” authors of the report wrote.
The man who traveled from Venezuela, who was not identified, is thought to have been initially infected through a mosquito bite.
“In this case report, [the partner who did not travel] potential exposures occurred both before and just after initial appearance of symptoms in the traveler, which is the time when blood viremia appears to be highest”, said the report.
Both he and his partner had mild symptoms that included fever and rash, and have recovered fully.
Researchers appeared to have ruled out the possibility that the second man might have been infected locally by a mosquito; Traps set up around the couple’s home collected some Culex mosquitoes, however the Aedes Aegypti moquitoes, the type believed to be the main culprit in spread of Zika virus, were not found.
CDC officials said they surprised at how often sexual transmission cases have been seen in this outbreak. The report noted that sexual spread “might contribute to more illness than was anticipated when the outbreak was first recognized.”
Such instances “offer unique and important opportunities to learn about this emerging mode of transmission and rapidly inform and refine interim prevention recommendations,” noted the report.
At least five other cases of sexual transmission of Zika have been confirmed in the US according to the CDC. All were through heterosexual contact.
The media has focused its reports of the effects of Zika on heterosexual couples mostly due to a possible link to women contracting the virus during pregnancy followed by birth defects in newborn babies. The reporting of this new case underlines the fact that the virus can affect anyone regardless of sexuality, even gay couples who engage in unprotected sex.
Research suggests that the virus can stay in stay in the semen for as long as 10 weeks, and the carrying person can thus remain infection for that period.
The findings also imply that health officials are likely to update their recommendations to all men who may have been exposed to Zika to use condoms during sex.
Most adults infected with Zika virus report no symptoms, and in those that do tend to have mild ones, including fever, rash and joint pain.
However there is some evidence to suggest the Zika can have severe neurological effects in adults and children. One study documented disseminated encephalomyelitis,an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, that damages the protective fatty myelin layer that covers nerve cells, recovery from which can take months.
It is also have been documented to be linked to patients developing Guillain-Barre syndrome, a paralysing condition that’s also caused by nerve damage.
These findings have worried health officials across the world, and resulted in that the Zika virus has been declared as a public health emergency in several countries.
“The take-home message is you have to consider any kind of intimate contact between an infected person with Zika and a non-infected person as a potential risk situation, regardless of gender,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
Osterholm, who was not an author of the report on the Dallas case also noted that it is still unclear if the virus can be transmitted through kissing or oral sex, though the virus is found in both saliva and semen. “That’s difficult to tease out,” he told the Huffington Post.