Could sex transmit Zika? Experts look into theory while urging caution after pregnant NYC woman diagnosed

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NEW YORK -- It is now confirmed that there are a half dozen cases of the Zika virus in the tri-state area, and that one of those cases is in a patient for whom the illness has the most devastating effect -- a pregnant woman.

"Yesterday, we were informed of a laboratory confirmed case in a pregnant woman who traveled to an area with ongoing Zika transmission," said Mary Travis Bassett, the New York City health commissioner,at a city hall news conference Thursday afternoon. "So that brings to three the number of New York City residents who have been diagnosed with Zika," she added.

In addition to that, cases have been confirmed in Bergen County, New Jersey, Orange County, New York, and Nassau County, on Long Island of the virus that's transmitted through bites from the Aedes Aegypti mosquito.

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In Nassau County, the county executive on Thursday organized a news conference that was intended to not only assure residents that the one Zika case diagnosed there was not contagious, it was also designed to inform residents that they should not travel to 24 countries in Central and South America where the virus is expected to be declared an epidemic next week by the World Health Organization.

Zika prohibits fetuses' heads and brains from growing to full size. Newborns who have been exposed to the illness are often severely deformed and cannot fully function in life.

It's why local leaders are urging expectant mothers to not travel to affected areas.

"Anyone that has this concern that has already made plans to travel to the affected countries," said Ed Mangano, the Nassau county executive, at a news conference. "They, along with their travel companions, should get a full refund."

He said that his consumer affairs commissioner would help in that effort, and that he was backing legislation that would require a refund by travel businesses in Nassau County.

In New York City, officials made one very important additional point. It is widely known that Zika is transmitted through the one specific type of mosquito, and not through human contact. However, rare exceptions to that fact are being explored.

"There are things that are unknown about Zika virus," said Hermania Palacio, the city's deputy commissioner for health and human affairs. "We will be learning as we move on."

The health commissioner added, "There have been two case reports that seem to be consistent with sexual transmission of Zika. This is something we'll be learning about as we move forward."

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