Space & Innovation

Case of Sexually Transmitted Zika Virus in Texas

A patient was infected with the virus after having sexual contact with an ill individual who returned from a country where Zika virus is present.

A county in Texas on Tuesday reported a case of Zika virus being sexually transmitted, raising new concerns about the spread of a mosquito-borne virus linked to birth defects.

Dallas County Health and Human Services said the patient was infected by a person who had traveled to Venezuela, but declined to identify the gender of the traveler or whether a pregnant woman was involved.

The county "has received confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the first Zika virus case acquired through sexual transmission in Dallas County in 2016," said a statement.

Zika Virus Likely to Hit US Before Vaccine

"The patient was infected with the virus after having sexual contact with an ill individual who returned from a country where Zika virus is present," it added.

The "confirmed case did not travel."

A spokesman for the CDC said the federal agency did not investigate the mode of transmission, but did confirm the infection.

Viruses Pass Major Test to Enter Ranks of Living

Last week the CDC said it was aware of one reported case of sexual transmission of Zika and one case of the virus being present in a man's semen after it disappeared from his blood.

CDC principal deputy director Anne Schuchat told reporters on January 28 that the federal agency was aware of "one reported case of Zika virus through possible sexual transmission."

That case, according to a report in the New York Times, involved a US biologist who was infected in 2008 with Zika while in Senegal collecting mosquitoes for a malaria study. He apparently infected his wife upon his return.

7 Surprising Facts About Pregnancy

"In another case, Zika virus was found in semen about two weeks after a man had symptoms with Zika virus infection, so that sort of gives you the biologic plausibility of spread," Schuchat added.

The World Health Organization has declared an international health emergency over Zika and warned that the virus may cause up to four million cases in the Americas.

The virus is "strongly suspected" of causing a surge in microcephaly cases - in which babies are born with unusually small heads - in Brazil since last year, but cause and effect has not yet been scientifically proven.

Researchers believe that if a pregnant women is bitten by an infected mosquito, particularly in the first trimester, she faces a higher risk of having a child with birth defects.

"Now that we know Zika virus can be transmitted through sex, this increases our awareness campaign in educating the public about protecting themselves and others," said Zachary Thompson, DCHHS director.

"Next to abstinence, condoms are the best prevention method against any sexually transmitted infections."

This is a transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of Zika virus.

Rarely has anyone looked at a potentially fatal infectious disease and exclaimed, "Now, that is a thing of beauty." One sculptor, however, has taken bacteria and viruses from their invisible world and placed them in ours.

Artist Luke Jerram has created a collection of glass artwork in the shape microorganisms -- bacteria and viruses no less that have the potential to infect or even kill human beings. By bringing these microscopic marauders to the light, Jerram demystifies these otherwise unknowable microorganisms. And using glass as a medium reinforces not only the fragility of the work, but also our own in the face of these diseases.

In this slide show, take a closer look at some of the highlights from Jerram's glass microbiology collection.

Turning HIV into a work of art is a seemingly impossible task. The virus is responsible for the deaths of an estimated 34 million people worldwide since the epidemic was first reported in 1981, according to UNAIDS, the joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

The HIV virus sculpture was the first Jerram built for his collection.

If there's one disease that has plagued humankind throughout its history, it's malaria. In 2010, the World Health Organization estimated that more than 200 million people were infected with the disease, mostly in poverty-stricken regions of sub-Saharan Africa, but also parts of South America and Southeast Asia.

Malaria is transmitted through mosquito bites. Mosquito nets, insect repellant and pesticides are all effective means of prevention, but only for those with the available resources and access to afford them.

Looking at this spindly sculpture might make you the slightest bit queasy, and for good reason. E. coli is represented by this glass artwork. Although most E. coli strains are in fact harmless to humans, the strains we're most acquainted with are the ones that cause food poisoning.

This alien-looking sculpture is actually T4 Bacteriophage, a virus that targets E. coli bacteria.

Bacteriophages are small viruses that attach to the cell membrane of bacteria. The virus injects its DNA into the bacteria, which then produces replicas of the virus, filling the bacterium until it bursts.

If this model is giving you that nostalgic feeling of plagues past, you might not be surprised to find out that this work represents Severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

SARS made global headlines in 2003 when people in 37 countries and nearly reached pandemic levels. Although coverage of the illness was widely criticized for overstating the threat, nearly 9,000 were infected with the disease, with had a nearly 10 percent fatality rate.

Swine flu, shown here, was another contagious disease that drew global attention that Jerram selected for his exhibition, but this time it was personal. According to his website, Jerram came down with swine flu and constructed the sculpture "with a fever whilst swallowing my Tamiflu tablets every few hours."

Swine flu, or H1N1 strain of the influenza virus, made global headlines in 2009 as the next potential major flu epidemic. Though common among pigs, swine flu is rarely transmitted among humans. When it does infect a human, however, the symptoms associated with the virus, typical of other flu strains, are particularly acute.

Given just how common the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is among humans, you'd think this virus, pictured here, wouldn't be so controversial. In fact, it isn't, but the use of a vaccine to prevent the infection, which can lead to certain kinds of cancers in women.

Because the virus can be transmitted sexually, however, the idea of vaccinations, particularly compulsory ones for children -- the vaccine is in fact intended only for people 25 and younger -- generated a considerable pushback, despite the obvious benefits of the treatment.

Hand, foot and mouth disease might not get a lot of press, but these disease outbreaks are in fact fairly common, particularly among infants and children. Occasionally, they can be fatal. Symptoms are similar to the flu, with the exception of sores that can appear all over the body, but particularly the hands, feet and mouth of the carrier.

This final entry is an unrealized future mutation for a disease that doesn't exist yet. Look for it in a contaminated water main, food source or loving pet near you. (But seriously, don't.)