Utah’s mystery Zika case has been solved, and the answer, as with so many revelations about Zika, is something never before seen with this virus. Someone seems to have gotten Zika through only casual physical contact with an infected person—the first such case that’s been documented.
In July, after a 73-year-old patient who’d contracted Zika while traveling to Mexico died (a rare occurrence in itself), a second person came down with the virus. The second patient had visited the first man in the hospital, but had not traveled to any Zika-infected areas or had sex with anyone who had. So with the two known methods of transmission—mosquito bites and sexual transmission—out of the running, it was unclear just how this second person had managed to get infected.
In a new paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the patients’ physicians from the University of Utah describe just what happened with these cases:
Patient 2 reported having assisted a nurse in repositioning Patient 1 in bed without using gloves. Patient 2 also reported having wiped Patient 1’s eyes during the hospitalization but reported having had no other overt contact with blood or other body fluids, including splashes or mucous membrane exposure.
The only fluids the second patient could have come in contact with are sweat and tears. A previous study detected traces of the virus in the tears of infected mice; there hasn’t been any similar research on sweat. The second patient probably either had a cut somewhere on his skin, or he inadvertently touched his eyes, nose, or mouth, and the virus entered his body. “It should not be able to pass through unbroken skin,” says Sankar Swaminathan, the chief of infections disease at University of Utah Health Care, and first author on the paper.