Zika spread worries

BRASILIA – Authorities in Brazil, where a Zika outbreak has been linked to severe birth defects, on Thursday disclosed two cases of transmission tied to blood transfusions, adding to concerns over the spread of the virus.

The virus, spreading quickly across Latin America and the Caribbean, is usually transmitted by the bite of a mosquito.

Marcelo Addas Carvalho, the doctor who is the director of the blood center at the University of Campinas near Sao Paulo, said genetic testing confirmed that a man who received a blood transfusion using blood given by another man infected with Zika in March 2015 became infected with the virus, although he did not develop symptoms.

Mr Carvalho said another man, who had suffered gunshot wounds, also became infected with Zika after receiving multiple blood transfusions that included blood given by an infected person in April 2015.

Mr Carvalho said infection probably was caused by the transfusion but genetic tests have not yet been conducted to confirm it.

He said it was very unlikely the infection was caused by a mosquito bite because the patient was in a hospital intensive care unit for three months.

The patient later died from his gunshot wounds and not the Zika infection, health officials and Mr Carvalho said.

“Transmission of the virus through blood transfusion is very rare and not an important factor in the epidemic. Governments and society in general should focus on eliminating the mosquito, which is the main form of transmission,” Mr Carvalho said.

The Brazil cases, along with a reported case of sexual transmission of the virus in Texas add a new dimension to efforts to limit Zika’s spread.

The cases have emerged at an awkward time because Rio de Janeiro is preparing to host the Olympic Games in August when tens of thousands of athletes and tourists were expected to visit Brazil’s second largest city.

Brazil is investigating more than 4000 suspected cases of microcephaly, a condition in which infants are born with abnormally small heads and can suffer developmental problems, that may be linked to the outbreak.

Scientists have begun to study whether Zika infection in pregnancy can cause microcephaly. The World Health Organization, citing strong suspicions of a link between the two and the spike in cases in Brazil, declared a global health emergency on Monday.

© 2015 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions

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