French researchers confirmed Friday the Zika virus can spread via sex.
The researchers found a 100 percent genetic match between a sample of Zika present in a man who contracted the virus in Brazil and a sample of the virus from a woman who had never traveled to an infected area, but who had sexual relations with the man.
“Our work confirms, using molecular analyses, that sexual transmission of the ZIKA virus exists, and should be taken into consideration when making recommendations, due to its persistence in the semen several weeks after infection,” Dr. Yazdan Yazdanpanah, who co-authored the study, said in a press statement. “The period for which men should systematically have protected sexual relations (even oral) needs to be defined.”
Individuals can spread the Zika virus via sex for at least three weeks after the initial infection, according the researchers.
There are currently 358 cases of Zika confirmed in America, of which seven were likely caused by sexual transmission, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Each inital case was from a person who traveled to a Zika-prone country, such as Brazil.
Zika virus infections in pregnant women are directly linked to fetal deaths and devastating birth defects such as microcephaly, when a baby is born with an abnormally small head, according to the CDC.
Laboratory studies have also confirmed the presence of Zika virus in the blood, tissue, brains and amniotic fluid of fetuses and babies diagnosed with microcephaly.
A study published in March by the National Center for Atmospheric Research found that the Zika-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito could spread as far north as New York City this summer if the weather is warmer than average.
The virus is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which lives in tropical climates. Zika likely won’t spread as prolifically in the U.S. as it has in Latin America and the Caribbean, due to the high number of Americans living and working behind air-conditioned doors. The study also found that small numbers of the mosquitoes can survive in much of North America during spring and fall when temperatures cool.
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