Health authorities are bewildered by a case of Zika virus found in Utah as no one can explain how one patient became infected.
Zika virus is known to spread through bites from the Aedes aegypti mosquito or through sexual transmission. However, one patient in Utah may have contracted the disease through a new, unknown channel of infection.
“This case is unusual. The individual does not have any of the known risk factors we’ve seen thus far with Zika virus,” said health officer Gary Edwards of the Salt Lake County Health Department.
The patient was the eighth resident of Utah to be diagnosed with Zika and he has since seen a full recovery.
What’s baffling to health officials is the lack of apparent risk factors. The patient hadn’t traveled to any areas in which Zika is common, nor did they have sexual contact with anyone who was infected. Moreover, no Aedes aegypti mosquitos have been found in Utah, so it is highly unlikely that the patient was infected through a bite.
However, the patient was acting as a caregiver to an elderly man who had contracted the disease during travel. The man is now deceased, though it has not been determined if his death was related to the Zika virus.
While the patient’s regular contact with a Zika carrier may be considered a clue in the case, it is still unclear as to how the virus could have been transmitted since the two did not have any sexual contact.
“We don’t have any evidence that suggests Zika can be passed from one person to another by sneezing or coughing or kissing or sharing utensils,” said Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the CDC.
Experts have insisted that sexual contact is required for the infection to spread; however, because the disease has been detected in blood, saliva, and urine, one has to wonder if in rare circumstances the virus might be transmitted through these fluids outside of sex.
Infectious disease specialist William Schaffner of Tennessee said, “This raises some interesting questions. Was there a needle stick or injury?”
Because the most recent patient was a caregiver, and more than half of all nurses will experience at least one needle stick incident during their career, it could be possible that the virus was transmitted by “shared” needle.
Even more curious is the fact that the deceased elderly patient showed unusually high levels of the virus. According to the CDC, his blood contained Zika levels 100,000 times higher than any other infected person thus far. Specialists are still not sure if this had any impact on his transmissibility, however.
Officials from the Salt Lake County Health Department are urging residents not to panic.
“At this time we don’t know if the contact between the new case and the deceased patient played any role in the transmission of the disease,” said Edwards. “There is an uncertainty about how this new case contracted Zika. But we do not believe that there is a risk of Zika transmission among the general population in Utah based on what we know so far.”