The World Health Organization WHO has called for thorough investigation over the spread of the Zika virus through sex. The global health body expressed its concerns over a report that the virus, which it said could affect 4 million people, had been sexually transmitted in the United States. It therefore called for further investigation into the mosquito-borne virus that has been linked to birth defects, reports Reuters.
The world recorded its first-known sexually transmitted Zika virus in the United States. The transmission, which was reported in Dallas, Texas on Tuesday by local health officials, was said to have been contracted through sex and not mosquito bite by an individual whose partner recently returned from a Zika-affected territory.
“We certainly understand the concern. This needs to be further investigated to understand the conditions and how often or likely sexual transmission is, and whether or not other body fluids are implicated,” WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl told Reuters.
“This is the only the second mooted case of sexual transmission,” he said, referring to media reports about a case of an American man who returned from Senegal and is suspected of infecting his wife.
The virus, which has been linked to babies born with abnormally small heads and birth defects in Brazil, has continued to spread to other countries in Latin America; leading to various measures being put in place by individual countries. El Salvador recently advised women having plans for pregnancy to delay such moves until at least six months or until 2018.
To fight the virus, the World Health Organization has also declared an international public health emergency during its emergency meeting held on Monday. The WHO global response team is expected to deliberate on the sexual transmission report among other issues at its daily meeting later on Wednesday, Hartl was quoted by Reuters as saying.
“There are many things we don’t know about Zika,” he said. “Lots of surveillance is needed…We have our team set up and are sure there will be lots of progress quickly.”
The most effective way to deal with the situation at the moment is to control mosquitoes in the infected areas and for people in such places to wear enough clothing, use insect repellent and sleep under bednets, Hartl said.
Speaking on the reported case of transmission of the virus through sex, Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director for CDC, said this was the first case it had dealt with involving a “non-traveller”.
“We don’t believe this was spread through mosquito bites, but we do believe it was spread through a sexual contact.”
A statement issued by the CDC said the best way to avoid Zika virus infection was “to prevent mosquito bites and to avoid exposure to semen from someone who has been exposed to Zika”.
In a related development, the American Red Cross has urged prospective blood donors just returning from countries hit by the virus to wait at least 28 days before donating their blood.
The “self-deferral” should apply to people returning from Mexico, the Caribbean or Central or South America during the past four weeks, the Red Cross said in a statement, per the BBC.