The Zika outbreak hounding Latin America, Africa, Asia and parts of the United States might be a lot scarier than we thought. While health officials have said for months that Zika is primarily transmitted to people through the bite of an infected mosquito, a new case in Utah suggests the virus can also spread through touching someone's tears or sweat.
A Utah man contracted the virus after he touched his dying father's tears and sweat, researchers said Wednesday. The father had 100,000 times the normal level of the virus, which likely contributed to the usual transmission method, the Associated Press reported. It's unclear how the father got so sick in the first place.
The father, 73, was also battling prostate cancer before his June death, which may have made him more vulnerable to the virus, said Dr. Sankar Swaminathan, chief of the infectious diseases division at University of Utah Health Care. The father and son were not named.
"There's no risk of shaking hands with a person who has a typical Zika infection," said Swaminathan.
The father likely contracted the virus while visiting Mexico, his native country. Other family members were also bitten by mosquitoes during the trip. His 38-year-old son was diagnosed with Zika within days of visiting his father in the hospital. Other people who came in contact with the father, including nurses and doctors, did not become sick. Mosquitoes in Salt Lake City have not been linked to the Zika virus.
Zika can also spread through sex or a pregnant woman can pass the virus to her fetus. Common Zika symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, muscle pain and headaches. They can last for several days, but people rarely die of Zika, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The best protection from Zika virus is preventing mosquito bites. Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant and their sexual partners should take extra care to protect themselves from the bite of mosquitoes that transmit Zika," the World Health Organization has said.