Tears, Sweat Might Spread the Zika Virus

Tears, Sweat Might Spread the Zika Virus
Disease Research

A Utah man may have become infected with the Zika virus through contact with his dying father’s sweat and tears with his bare hands. [1]

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests the unusual transmission may be linked to the fact that the man’s father carried 100,000 times the normal level of the virus.

However, the study doesn’t answer why the dying man’s levels were so high, or why his son became infected in a way not documented anywhere else.

Details of the Case

The father, 73, died of prostate cancer in June 2016, just 8 months after his diagnosis. He had been receiving radiation therapy and anti-androgen therapy, and it is believed that this could have made it easier for the virus to replicate.

Even so, that doesn’t explain why the deceased man had such high levels of the virus, according to Dr. Sankar Swaminathan, chief of the infectious diseases division at University of Utah Health Care, who treated both of the men.

The father became ill following a 3-week trip to the southwest coast of his native country, Mexico, where he and other family members were bitten by mosquitoes.

He developed muscle aches, diarrhea, and other symptoms. His team of caretakers initially thought he had dengue fever, which is closely related to Zika, and is spread by the same mosquitoes.

Four days after being infected, the man died from respiratory and kidney failure. Blood tests showed he’d had dengue in the past, but not recently.

His healthy son, 38, became sick 5 days after visiting his father in the hospital and was also later diagnosed with the Zika virus. He survived and later told doctors he had helped nurses care for his father, including wiping his eyes without gloves.

Source: Health.mil

The team wrote:

“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.” [2]

None of the doctors or nurses who treated the man’s father became infected with Zika, nor did any other family members. Health officials and researchers tested mosquitoes in the Salt Lake City area and didn’t find any Zika-carrying insects. [1]

The authors of the new report and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) both agree that the son must have contracted Zika through a new method other than the two previously identified modes of transmission: a mosquito bite, or through sexual activity.

Read: Zika Virus Is “Scarier than the CDC Initially Thought”

The team went on to say:

“Given the very high level of viremia in Patient 1, infectious levels of virus may have been present in sweat or tears, both of which Patient 2 contacted without gloves.” [2]

The same thing can occur in people who have the Ebola virus. When patients got extremely high levels of the virus in their blood, even their sweat became infectious to others.

People visiting an area affected by Zika don’t need to start wearing gloves, Swaminathan said, because researchers believe this new type of transmission is extremely rare, and was the result of the father’s unusually high levels of the virus. [1]


[1] CBS News

[2] NBC News