The first case of the Zika virus being contracted in the United States was reported in Texas on Monday, the same day the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus an international public health emergency. It's also the first sexually transmitted case in the United States.
The person contracted the virus after having sexual contact with someone who was bitten by an infected mosquito during a trip to Venezuela, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dallas County health officials. There have been no reports of the disease spreading by mosquito in Dallas County.
People can get Zika through mosquitoes and sexual contact. Symptoms of the virus are usually mild — fever, joint pain, rash, and red eyes lasting for a few days — but it's been linked to a birth defect called microcephaly, in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains. There's currently no treatment for Zika, which has been reported in 23 countries, according to The New York Times.
"Now that we know Zika virus can be transmitted through sex, this increases our awareness campaign in educating the public about protecting themselves and others," Zachary Thompson, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, said in a statement. "Next to abstinence, condoms are the best prevention method against any sexually transmitted infections."
Zika is spreading rapidly in South America — WHO officials say it could infect 4 million people — which has coincided with an uptick in the number of microcephaly cases. More research needs to be done to conclusively prove a link between Zika and microcephaly, according to the CDC.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials have told pregnant women and those looking to get pregnant to take precautions against Zika. The CDC has advised pregnant women not to travel to countries where the disease has been reported. South American authorities have taken more serious measures: Brazil and Colombia have advised women to put off pregnancy for at least several months, while officials in El Salvador have told women to avoid getting pregnant until 2018.