Health officials puzzled by Zika case in Utah

Health officials puzzled by Zika case in Utah
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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.

Utah state health officials announced Monday they have identified a person who tested positive for the Zika virus without any known contact with mosquitoes or sexual contact with an infected person — the only two ways the virus has been known to spread so far.  

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“This new case does not have any of the known risk factors for Zika virus,” Angela Dunn, deputy state epidemiologist, told reporters Monday.

The new finding is the latest alarming twist in the monthslong medical scramble to learn more about the Zika virus, which causes birth defects and is linked to short-term paralysis in adults.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has dispatched an emergency team to Utah, quickly moved to reassure the general public.

Dr. Erin Staples, an epidemiologist who is on the ground in Utah, wrote in a statement that the spread of Zika through any means other than mosquitoes “does not appear to be common.” Out of 1,306 cases of Zika in the U.S., only 14 have been spread through sexual contact and one was the result of a laboratory exposure.   

Still, Staples acknowledged the new case in Utah “is a surprise, showing that we still have more to learn about Zika.”

Officials said the person, whose name and gender are not being released by the government, was in close contact with an elderly Utah resident who had contracted Zika while traveling abroad.  

This person, who was described only as a “family contact” of the elderly patient, did not leave the country and resides in Utah, where scientists have not found the breed of mosquitoes that spreads Zika.

Officials said the person “provided care” to the elderly Zika patient, who died recently, possibly from complications of the virus.

The newly infected person has fully recovered, but scientists are now testing other people in contact with the elderly patient to learn more about how it was spread, Dunn said.

“We do believe this is a unique situation, but again, there is a lot of uncertainty,” Dunn said.

Utah has reported eight cases of the Zika virus, seven of which were acquired from traveling abroad, according to the Utah health department.