Zika virus infection reported in US

Media captionExclusive: CDC Deputy Principal director tells BBC the Dallas Zika case was sexually trans

A rare case of the Zika virus being transmitted through sex, not a mosquito bite, has been reported in the US.

A patient infected in Dallas, Texas, is likely to have been infected by sexual contact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) told the BBC.

The person had not travelled to infected areas but their partner had returned from Venezuela.

Zika is carried by mosquitoes and has been linked to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped brains.

It is spreading through the Americas and the World Health Organization has declared the virus a global public health emergency.

In another development, two cases of the Zika virus have been confirmed in Australia. Officials said the two Sydney residents had recently returned from the Caribbean.

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Meanwhile, Brazil – the country worst hit by the outbreak – has revealed it is investigating 3,670 suspected cases of microcephaly in babies linked to the Zika virus.

A total of 404 cases have so far been confirmed – up from 270 last week – while 709 cases have been discarded, the country’s health ministry said.

The ministry also said 76 infant deaths from microcephaly, either during pregnancy or just after birth, were suspected.

The case in Dallas would be the first known infection to take place in the mainland US, though Texas has seen seven other Zika cases all related to foreign travel.

Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director for CDC, said this was the first case it had dealt with involving a “non-traveller”.

“We don’t believe this was spread through mosquito bites, but we do believe it was spread through a sexual contact.”

A statement issued by the CDC said the best way to avoid Zika virus infection was “to prevent mosquito bites AND to avoid exposure to semen from someone who has been exposed to Zika”.

The case is “significant” if it was definitely transmitted through sexual contact, Alaka Basu, a senior fellow for public health at the UN Foundation, told the BBC.

“This significance is parallel with the HIV/Aids case. It’s worse in some ways, because there are two modes of transmission.”

It is not the first known case of sexual transmission. There was a case in 2013 in French Polynesia, according to the CDC website.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said her government was focused on eradicating the mosquito that transmits the virus.

In an address to a joint session of Congress, she said considerable funds would be set aside for the programme.

“We should all be worried about microcephaly,” she said.

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The disease is suspected of being especially dangerous for pregnant women

The alert issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday puts Zika in the same category of concern as Ebola.

It means research and aid will be fast-tracked to tackle the infection.

WHO director general, Margaret Chan called Zika an “extraordinary event” that needed a co-ordinated response.

She said the priorities were to protect pregnant women and their babies from harm and to control the mosquitoes that are spreading the virus.

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