Zika Update

Sexual transmission more common than thought; NIH to track infections among Olympians; Zika-related birth defects draw attention to another common virus

By | July 5, 2016

Zika virusCDC, CYNTHIA GOLDSMITHSexual transmission of Zika virus may be more common than previously acknowledged, some experts fear. Two new studies suggest women in Latin America are much more likely than men to be infected with the virus, and the difference is greatest during the years when women are most sexually active, The New York Times reported. The findings are debated, and mosquitoes are still considered the virus’s primary vector. But Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called the evidence “striking,” according to the New York Times

The Zika virus has been circulating for more than 70 years, yet it only recently became a major public health concern. A team from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston analyzed the sequences of different Zika strains, finding they are virtually identical, Scientific American reported. The virus’s recently observed virulence is likely not the result of recent mutations, but rather because, before the current outbreak, Zika was only found in remote areas, according to Scientific American.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) today (July 5) announced it is funding a study of Zika virus exposure among athletes, coaches, and staff attending the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil. The study, led by Carrie Byinton of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, aims to determine the rate of infection, identify possible risk factors, detect where and how long the virus persists in bodily fluids, and study the reproductive outcomes of participants for up to a year. The study “offers a unique opportunity to answer important questions and help address an ongoing public health emergency,” Catherine Spong, acting director of National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said in the statement.

The dramatic rise in microcephaly cases linked to Zika virus infection during pregnancy could draw attention to another virus that causes birth defects: cytomegalovirus (CMV). The latter is responsible for hundreds of deaths among babies in the U.S., and causes serious birth defects in thousands of others, according to Nature. The US National CMV Foundation is currently lobbying congress to raise awareness of the problem, Nature reported.

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