Just because you haven't traveled to a Zika-infected region doesn't necessarily mean that you are safe from becoming ill with the virus.
While this mosquito-borne disease is rapidly spreading through the Caribbean and Latin America, officials are now saying that avoiding these pesky bugs isn't the only thing you have to worry about.
According to health officials in Dallas County, TX, they are working on a case with a patient who did not travel abroad — but had sex with a partner who recently returned from Venezuela — and is now infected with the virus. The CDC issued a statement to CNN saying that Zika was indeed found present in the blood of a "nontraveler in the continental United States." However, they made it clear that there is no developing fetus in this circumstance.
Not only has the CDC confirmed that this is the first case of the virus being locally acquired in the continental United States during the current outbreak, but they have also updated their Zika virus guidelines for pregnant women. They advise expectant mothers to protect themselves by avoiding sexual contact if their male partner has been sick with Zika or traveled to one of the locations where the virus, which has been linked to the devastating birth defect microcephaly, is circulating.
"Until we know more, if your male sexual partner has traveled to or lives in an area with active Zika virus transmission, you should abstain from sex or use condoms the right way every time you have vaginal, anal, and oral sex for the duration of the pregnancy," the updated guidance states.
The confirmation that Zika can be spread through sexual transmission makes this outbreak even more difficult to control. Now experts say that preventing the spread of this often silent disease not only relies on mosquito control but also sex education.
Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the CDC, told CNN's chief medical correspondent that he isn't surprised by the isolated cases of Zika spreading through blood transfusion and sexual contact. "The virus is in the blood for about a week. How long it would remain in the semen is something that needs to be studied and we're working on that now," Frieden said.
He also explained that performing studies on sexual transmissions is not easy but that the CDC is continuing to explore every avenue of transmission. "What we know is the vast majority of spread is going to be from mosquitoes," the doctor continued. "The bottom line is mosquitoes are the real culprit here."