Doctors now believe the Zika virus can spread through hugs and kisses, as well as other contact with bodily fluids.
Doctors concluded that the first American to die of Zika, an elderly Utah man, may have spread the infection to his family members through kisses and hugs. The man had roughly 100,000 times the usual amounts of the Zika virus in his blood.
“It remains unclear how patient A was infected; however patient A was known to have had close contact (i.e. kissing and hugging) with the index patient while the index patient’s viral load was found to be very high,” Dr. Jeanmarie Mayer, a medical doctor at the University of Utah Hospital, reported Tuesday.”Although it is not certain that these types of close contact were the source of transmission, family contacts should be aware that blood and body fluids of severely ill patients might be infectious.”
Utah doesn’t have the kind of mosquitoes that transmit Zika, and the father-son pair did not have any sexual contact, according to doctors. Utah health officials have not identified the people involved.
Bodily fluids that can potentially transmit Zika include blood, urine, semen, saliva, vaginal secretions, sweat and possibly tears. Of the 19 family members exposed to the virus, only the son was infected.
There are currently 2,964 cases of Zika virus confirmed in the continental U.S., as well as another 15,809 in American territories, according to the Center for Disease Prevention And Control’s (CDC) most recent update published Wednesday.
Domestic Zika cases include 24 believed to be the result of sexual transmission, one that was the result of laboratory exposure, plus new cases from local mosquitoes. The vast majority of the cases were from people who traveled to a Zika-prone country, such as Brazil.
Florida health officials say 634 Floridians are currently infected with Zika, 86 of whom are pregnant women. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration stopped accepting blood donations from the Miami-area where Zika mosquitoes have been identified in late July until donors are screened for the virus.
Zika virus infections in pregnant women are directly linked to fetal deaths and microcephaly, a birth defect that causes babies to have abnormally small heads, according to the CDC. Some children born with microcephaly can live productive lives, but the infants most affected tend not to survive long. Laboratory studies confirmed the presence of Zika virus in the blood, tissue, brains and amniotic fluid of fetuses and babies diagnosed with microcephaly.
New research published in August scanned babies’ brains to determine how the virus affected them. Researchers found that Zika does far more damage to an infant’s brain than previously believed, targeting the parts of the brain that facilitate communication between the two hemispheres.
Most of the babies in the study had less visible, but no less serious, damage in the part of the brain that controls learning, memory and coordination. This suggests that Zika-infected babies who don’t have obvious initial symptoms may develop problems as they grow.
Zika creates clumps of calcium around blood vessels in the infant’s brain, which prevents parts from forming normally, and physically blocks or destroys connections to other areas of the brain. The virus tends to target the cerebellum and the basal ganglia, inhibiting movement, balance, speech and emotion.
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