Russia has documented its first case of Zika virus infection after an unnamed woman returned from a trip to the Dominican Republic.
“The person with the virus is currently at an infectious diseases hospital, her condition is satisfactory,” declared Rospotrebnadzor, the Russian consumer watchdog group. “Medical observation of family members was established, no clinical manifestations of the virus were registered among them, and they tested negative for the Zika virus.”
The confirmation comes a few days after the Russian Healthcare Ministry warned it could hit the country due to travelers.
“Zika virus infection cases have not been registered in Russia. Some cases may emerge related to tourist visits to countries that have been hit by the outbreak,” said spokesman Oleg Salagay on February 12. “Those cases, though, do no pose the threat of an epidemic because the main transmitter of the virus is a special species of mosquitoes that cannot inhabit most of the Russian territory.”
On February 4, Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets assured the country the government will isolate any cases to protect other citizens.
“We have worked out serious measures to control viruses entering Russia, so now we are monitoring so that this virus is not brought to the country. If anything happens, there are all measures to isolate [it] immediately,” she said.
Aedes aegypti mosquitoes carry the disease. While primarily found in Africa, all but two nations in the Western Hemisphere – Chile and Canada – have recorded populations of the mosquito species living there. They also carry dengue, yellow fever, and chikungunya.
Despite Salagay’s claims, researchers found the mosquito in Sochi, located on the Black Sea. The scientists recommended the country implement control measures “to reduce the possible risks of importing exotic vector-borne infections, such as dengue and chikungunya.”
As the outbreak continues, scientists continue to find different ways to transmit the disease. The Dallas County Health and Human Services (DCHHS) confirmed a person received the virus after “sexual contact with an individual with Zika.”
“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,” explained Zachary Thompson, DCHHS director. “Next to abstinence, condoms are the best prevention method against any sexually-transmitted infections.”
Harvey Stern, medical director at Fairfax Cryobank, told USA Today that scientists do not “know how long the Zika virus can survive in semen, or whether the virus is present in the semen of men without symptoms.”
Brazilian scientists also detected live Zika virus in human saliva and urine, which may indicate that a person in contact with these bodily fluids can contract the virus.
“I think we need to be careful that don’t we jump to any conclusions about transmissibility,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “When you find a virus or fingerprints of a virus in a body secretion, it absolutely does not mean that it is transmitted that way.”
Saliva can hold HIV, but cannot spread the disease.
Others said the “low levels” can make it “impossible or unlikely” to transfer to another person. Substances in the saliva could also prevent transmission.
“I think it’s important to step back and emphasize that Zika is a mosquito-borne virus and the overwhelming majority of cases are spread by mosquitoes,” stated Thomas Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In late January, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian scientists to develop a vaccine for the virus. The scientists hope to patent one by March.
Russian Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova said the country wants the vaccine because officials desire “a full inventory of vaccines” and to ship it to countries impacted by Zika.
Experts believe a fully legalized vaccine is still a decade away. Researchers hope, though, to have an emergency vaccine by the end of the year.
“This vaccine is easy to produce. It could be cranked to very high levels in a really short time,” said Canadian scientist Gary Kobinger.
Two groups currently working on the vaccines want to begin human testing in August. Kobinger anticipates the human tests will be good enough for governments to “allow the use of it in emergency situations.”
On Friday, Brazil and the University of Texas signed an agreement to develop a Zika vaccine. Brazilian Health Minister announced the government will devote $1.9 million to the research.