While Zika virus has been around for more than 60 years, it was relatively benign until 2015. However, since then, it 1.5 million cases have been reported in 30 different countries. Zika is spreading fast, and shows no signs of stopping. So how exactly is the Zika virus transmitted?
Originally, scientists believed the only way to contract Zika was through the bite of an infected mosquito, according to The Independent. But it was quickly discovered the disease could also be passed from mother to fetus. However, earlier this week authorities have confirmed Zika can be spread through sexual transmission and blood transfusions, according to The Wall Street Journal:
Health officials in Brazil reported two cases of the Zika virus being transmitted through blood transfusions...[b]oth cases were reported by health officials in Campinas...[and] a number of countries are tightening their rules on blood donations in response to the global Zika outbreak.
And this morning, Brazilian researchers confirmed active strands of Zika have been found in saliva and urine, according to ABC News. However, according to Paulo Gadelha, the director of a medical research organization in Brazil, it is not known what these findings mean:
The virus's ability to infect other people through the two body fluids requires further study.
The good news (if one can call it that) is that for adults who are not pregnant — and do not plant to be — the infection is not considered serious. Symptoms include a fever, rash, pink eye, and sore muscles and joints, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, the major concern is for those who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, as there are strong links between Zika and microcephaly — a congenital disorder that can shrink unborn babies' brains and heads and reduce life expectancy.
On Wednesday, the American Red Cross released a statement asking potential blood donors who have been in Mexico, the Caribbean, or Central or South America to wait at least 28 days after their trip before donating:
We are closely monitoring the spread of Zika virus. As a precaution, the Red Cross will be working as quickly as possible to implement a self-deferral for blood donors who have traveled to Mexico, the Caribbean, or Central or South America within 28 days prior to presenting to donate. We will also ask that if a donor does donate and subsequently develops symptoms consistent with Zika virus infection within 14 days of that donation, that he or she immediately notify the Red Cross so that we can quarantine the product.
However, the Red Cross added that “donating blood is a safe process and people should not hesitate to give or receive blood.”
People in areas affected by Zika have been advised to wear insect repellent and light, long clothing, and keep doors and windows closed, and the CDC also advised people to use condoms, according to The Washington Post.