Healthy Living

The Latest On Zika: The U.S. Investigates More Cases Of Sexual Transmission

Gamma rays, funding disputes and conspiracy theories.

The Zika virus, which is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, is strongly suspected to be linked to a new wave of microcephaly cases in Brazil. Babies born with the birth defect have smaller heads and sometimes brains that aren't fully developed, which can result in life-long developmental problems.

Zika is currently spreading through Central and South America and the Caribbean, and with the high volume of news about the virus, it's tough to stay up-to-date. Check out our full coverage, or read our daily recaps.

Here are four updates, opinions and developments to know about now:

1. The CDC is investigating 14 new reports of sexually transmitted Zika virus

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating 14 new reports of possible sexual transmission of Zika virus, some of which involve pregnant women. Two cases have been confirmed to be Zika virus, and preliminary laboratory evidence suggests that four others may be, but confirmation is pending. For the remaining eight patients, testing to detect and confirm Zika virus is ongoing.

For all of the cases in which information was available, the partner who had traveled to a Zika-affected area was a man. Each one reported Zika virus symptoms within two weeks of their female partners' symptoms, suggesting the men transmitted the virus to their partners. The CDC notes there is currently no evidence women can transmit Zika virus to their partners, but more studies are needed.

Because sexual transmission of Zika virus appears to be a lot easier than originally thought, the CDC emphasized that travelers who have been to a an area with Zika virus transmission should protect their partners -- especially a pregnant partner. These guidelines include practicing abstinence or using condoms during vaginal, oral or anal sex. Pregnant couples should also discuss travel histories and potential exposure to Zika virus with their OB/GYN.

2. Brazil will use gamma rays to sterilize mosquitoes

Brazil plans to breed and then sterilize male mosquitoes by zapping them with gamma rays from an irradiator, a technique that in the past has been used to control fruit flies, reports Reuters. These newly sterilized male mosquitoes will then be released into the wild, where they will mate with female mosquitoes and produce sterile eggs that won’t result in offspring. Experts described it as a “birth control method” for mosquitoes and hope it can curb the Aedes aegypti population -- the insect that's the main transmission mode for Zika virus.

3. The White House weighs using Ebola money for the Zika virus response

In early February, President Barack Obama said he'd request $1.8 billion in emergency funding to respond to the Zika virus. On Monday, he made his request official -- and bumped up the ask to $1.9 billion. In response, several GOP lawmakers are now suggesting that the White House draw from the unspent $2.7 billion approved for Ebola, reports Reuters.

While the White House isn’t necessarily opposed to this suggestion -- indeed, they're also seeking permission to use a portion of the Ebola money for Zika virus -- they say that the scope of the Zika virus outbreak necessitates new funding and they want to leave a "significant portion" of the Ebola budget to help West African countries recover from the epidemic.

Health officials have said that the money requested for Zika will fund research for a vaccine and a diagnostic test, aid to other countries hit by the outbreak, as well as provide help to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, which is at high risk of having a large Zika virus epidemic.

4. Refuting a conspiracy theory about genetically modified mosquitoes

Global health experts from the CDC to the World Health Organization to Bill Gates' Gates Foundation have all expressed interest in the promise of using genetically modified mosquitoes to control mosquito populations and mosquito-borne diseases.

But conspiracy theories linking the emerging technology to the actual spread of Zika virus abound on the Internet, and FactCheck.org decided to take these stories head on in an authoritative debunking story. No, the Gates Foundation is not behind the Zika virus epidemic in Brazil. No, genetically modified mosquitoes were not released in the same areas experiencing the highest Zika virus and microcephaly rates. Unfortunately, one recent poll shows that more than one-third of Americans believe some version of this conspiracy theory.

5. Bill Gates praises global response to Zika virus, vows to help

Gates, whose foundation funds global health initiatives, spoke favorably about the worldwide response to Zika virus, pointing out that scientists and governments are working together a lot faster than when the Ebola virus broke out in West Africa in 2014, according to Reuters.

Gates also said his foundation has invested in research focusing on how to make sure mosquitoes are incapable of carrying disease and eradicating the mosquito population entirely.

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