Canada Confirms First Case of Sexually Transmitted Zika Virus Disease
The public health ministry of Ontario has stated that they have confirmed the first known case of sexual transmission of the Zika virus in Canada. The statement was issued on April 25th 2016.
Zika virus disease is an illness which is usually transmitted via bites from infected mosquitoes. Since the disease’s discovery in 1947, outbreaks are known to have occurred throughout Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific. Zika may also have occurred elsewhere, but is likely to have passed unnoticed: Zika virus disease presents itself with mild to moderate symptoms, and is rarely fatal.
Symptoms include fever, rash, red eyes, and joint pain. Individuals who become infected with the Zika virus typically recover within one week, most often without any medical attention: the progression of the disease closely resembles that of other, more common illnesses. Many individuals infected with the Zika virus write off their condition as a nasty variety of the common cold, or a moderate to severe case of the flu, and the time frame involved gives little enough reason to ever suspect otherwise.
Concerns Regarding Birth Complications
What makes the Zika virus so troubling lies in two coinciding factors:
First, the Zika virus infection has been confirmed as being sexually transmissible. On April 25th, 2016, the Ontario Ministry of Health and the Public Health Agency of Canada announced that they had confirmed the first case of Zika virus disease via sexual transmission in Canada. PHAC additionally confirmed, at that time, that they were investigating a possible second such occurrence. The patient, identified only as a woman, appears to have contracted the Zika virus infection from a partner, who recently traveled to a country where the virus is endemic.
Prior to this confirmation, there were 55 known cases of Zika virus infection in Canada. Each of those cases involved individuals who had recently traveled to regions outside of the country where there were known Zika virus outbreaks.
Second, the Zika virus infection causes birth defects. The child of a woman infected with the Zika virus during the course of her pregnancy is at increased risk of microcephaly. A child with microcephaly has a disproportionately small head, due to the abnormal development of their brain. The condition may be mild to severe, and may be accompanied by such complications as seizures, developmental delays, balance and coordination issues, difficulty swallowing, and impairment of vision or hearing.
Effects of Zika Virus Disease on Birth Defect Rates
It’s known that Zika can cause microcephaly. What isn’t known is its statistical impact- how many cases of microcephally are actually caused by Zika? Other conditions, including rubella and toxic plasmosis, also affect the rate at which cases of microcephaly occur. It is estimated that between two and twelve cases of microcephaly occur per every 10,000 live births, including the full range of the condition's levels of severity.
With Zika being a relatively recent risk factor in the west, that number may be poised to increase.
Zika Virus Awareness
Widespread western awareness of the Zika virus and its potential complications first gained significant traction in 2015, when a case of Zika virus disease was confirmed in Brazil by the Pan American Health Organization. Reports of its spreading to other areas previously not known for Zika virus outbreaks led the World Health Organization to declare the disease a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) in early 2016.
It is extremely difficult to pin down areas where the Zika virus is spreading, and affected regions are likely to change with great regularity. Individuals who are traveling to parts of the world known to have experienced Zika outbreaks in the past should visit the CDC's Travelers' Health website for the most current information available on this and other health-related concerns common to travel abroad. Women who are pregnant, nursing, or trying to become pregnant should avoid traveling to countries which have experienced recent Zika virus outbreaks. Individuals who experience symptoms including fever, joint pain, rashes and red eyes after such a trip are encouraged to seek medical attention to help curb the spread of the virus.
Additional information for health care providers, and in regard to what you should do if you believe you may have contracted the Zika virus, may be found here. If you are pregnant, and you believe you may have contracted the Zika virus, you should contact your health care provider immediately. Even if you are attempting to become pregnant, you should speak your concerns about Zika with your physician.