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Published: Wed, July 20, 2016
Economy | By Melissa Porter

Zika Virus Mystery: New Utah Case Stumps Researchers

Zika Virus Mystery: New Utah Case Stumps Researchers

Guidance to prevent sexual transmission, particularly to women who are pregnant.

"We do not believe that there is risk of Zika transmission among the general public in Utah based on what we know so far", Edwards said.

Federal health officials are investigating a mysterious case of the Zika virus in Utah that appears to signal another new route of transmission for the virus.

As of July 7, CDC's U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry listed nine cases of babies born with possible Zika-related birth defects, and another six lost pregnancies with the defects. Zika virus IgM antibodies were not detectable by the CDC Zika MAC-ELISA assay. But as many as 80 percent of people infected never develop symptoms.

It's spread mainly through the bite of a tropical mosquito. US and worldwide health officials have advised pregnant women to avoid travel to Latin American and Caribbean countries where they may be exposed to Zika. Health experts think mosquito transmission probably will occur in the US, but the expectation is that it will be in low-elevation, sweltering places where the insect has been a steady problem - such as southern Florida or southern Texas. But neither appears to have been the case in Utah, officials in Salt Lake City said.

The deceased patient had traveled to an area outside the country where Zika is circulating and apparently caught the virus there. The Food and Drug Administration has recommended that blood banks decline donations from people who have traveled to Zika areas within the previous month.

A caregiver of an elderly Zika patient in Utah has now been diagnosed with the disease, leaving health officials stumped about how the virus was transmitted from patient to caregiver. The CDC has dispatched an Emergency Response Team (CERT), including infection control, virology, mosquito control, disease investigation and health communications experts, to work in conjunction with the Utah Department of Health to help investigate this "unusual" case of Zika transmission. Both have recovered, a CDC official said.

Officials say the patient has not recently traveled to a Zika-infected country or reported having sexual contact with anyone who has.

How do people become infected?

University of Utah Health Care is also in the process of conducting additional testing for staff members who cared for the deceased individual, said associate vice president of clinical affairs Dr. Ed Clark. "We don't want to put the blinders on and go down just one avenue of investigation".

Unlike the deceased person - referred to by investigators as "the index patient" - the caregiver had not visited an area where the Zika virus was known to be circulating.

The spread of the Zika virus has already begun to slow down and will likely be gone in no more than three years, according to a new study from scientists at Imperial College London. It's not yet clear whether the high viral load was the result of a depressed immune system or whether severe viral infection caused the man's death, health officials said during a news briefing today (July 18).

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