The Zika virus has become an international emergency according to the World Health Organization, and Tuesday an alarming new case was announced on U.S. soil.
Health officials said the first sexually transmitted case was reported in Dallas.
“This case in Dallas is very concerning,” said Vanderbilt Chair of Preventative Medicine Dr. William Schaffner over the phone, “we don't know if sexual transmission is common or rare. We don't know how long after contracting Zika you can transmit this virus to your partner.”
But don't panic yet. The CDC said until now the more than 30 U.S. cases were all foreign travelers and there was no evidence that mosquitoes on American soil carry the virus. It has mostly been limited to South America and usually isn't that serious.
“For the most part people get infected with the Zika virus and they never even know they’re infected. But a small portion of people will indeed develop fever, aches and pains and a rash,” Schaffner said.
The exception to the mild effects: when women who are pregnant receive bites from infected mosquitoes. Doctors in Brazil are seeing a spike in infants with microcephaly, a birth defect that results in an abnormally small head and may be linked to the virus.
In 2015 4,000 cases were reported in Brazilian babies.
“I’m afraid the majority of these babies have very substantial limitations and those are limitations that will be with them for their lifetimes,” Schaffner said.
The World Health Organization has called for an international effort to fight the virus.
Scientists in the forest where the virus got its name have been trapping mosquitoes for research, and a lab in England was testing genetically modified bugs whose larvae die before maturity as a form of population control.
Because, despite several teams working toward it, a vaccine may not appear for a while. Schaffner said research teams were trying to cram two years-worth of work into six months.
He suggested pregnant women stay away from the South and Central American countries that have been affected by the virus.
Others who chose to travel there should take precautions like staying inside, wearing long sleeves and pants and bug spray at all times.