Scientists are bewildered by a new and disturbing development involving the Zika virus in Utah, where a patient who contracted the virus recently died. Officials announced on Monday they’re investigating how a person who cared for the patient who died also became infected.
“Based on what is known now, the person has not recently traveled to an area with Zika and has not had sex with someone who is infected with Zika or who has traveled to an area with Zika,” the Utah Department of Health wrote in a statement on Monday. “In addition, there is no evidence at this time that mosquitoes that commonly spread Zika virus are in Utah.”
The department described the deceased as someone who had “a uniquely high amount of virus in the blood.” The death marked the first known Zika fatality in the United States.
“Our knowledge of this virus continues to evolve and our investigation is expected to help us better understand how this individual became infected,” said Angela Dunn, the deputy state epidemiologist at the Utah Department of Health. “Based on what we know so far about this case, there is no evidence that there is any risk of Zika virus transmission among the general public in Utah.”
So far, the Centers for Disease Control has recorded 1,306 cases of the Zika virus in the United States, including 346 cases among pregnant women. Although the virus can have grave outcomes for children and adults, infection is especially concerning for pregnant women. Zika has been linked to birth defects like microcephaly, in which babies are born with unusually small heads, and other brain abnormalities. Despite the growing number of cases in America, there are no known areas in the United States where mosquitoes are actively transmitting the virus. Though the country has thus far avoided a Zika outbreak, officials warn that such an event is still possible.