Sexual transmission of Zika virus ‘more common than thought’

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Sexual transmission of the Zika virus appears to be “more common” than previously assumed, and birth abnormalities other than microcephaly are now being reported in connection with the disease, health officials say.

World Health Organization Director General Margaret Chan, speaking after an emergency meeting on Tuesday, explained that the latest research has provided new evidence that links Zika infections with the occurrence of fetal malformations and neurological disorders.

“We can now conclude that Zika virus is neurotropic, preferentially affecting tissues in the brain and brain stem of the developing fetus,” Chan said. “Microcephaly is now only one of several documented birth abnormalities associated with Zika infection during pregnancy. Grave outcomes include fetal death, placental insufficiency, fetal growth retardation, and injury to the central nervous system.”

Cases of microcephaly in connection with Zika have so far been documented in only two countries – French Polynesia and Brazil – but investigations are now underway in other countries where the outbreaks started later. There is also increasing evidence to link Zika with other illnesses.

Nine countries have reported either an increased incidence of Guillain-Barré syndrome or Zika Virus cases among GBS cases. “A retrospective case-control study of GBS associated with Zika in French Polynesia recorded no deaths, but the disease progressed rapidly and a large percentage of patients required admission to an intensive care unit for as long as 51 days,” Dr. Chan said.

Guillain-Barré syndrome affects adult men slightly more often than women and children, indicating that the primary health risks are not limited to women and unborn children. “All of this news is alarming,” Dr. Chan said.

Local transmission of Zika Virus has been reported in 31 countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean, but imported cases have now been reported in every region in the world, according to the World Health Organization, which says further geographical spread is to be expected.

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