TORONTO - Canada has recorded its first confirmed case of sexually transmitted Zika virus in an Ontario resident whose partner was infected after travelling to a country where the mosquito-borne disease has become endemic.
The case was announced Monday by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and the Ontario Ministry of Health, but no further details about the resident were made public.
The diagnosis was confirmed after testing by PHAC's National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, which is still investigating another possible case of sexually transmitted Zika.
On March 24, Saskatchewan's deputy chief medical health officer said the province was scrutinizing the case of a woman who was believed to have contracted the virus after having sex with a man who had travelled to a country where Zika is prevalent.
"The Saskatchewan case remains under investigation," a spokesman for the province's ministry of health said Monday by email. "It hasn't yet been confirmed by the National Microbiology Laboratory."
To date, there have been 55 other confirmed cases of Zika among Canadians, all of whom were infected while travelling to regions where the disease is spreading, including South and Central America, parts of Mexico and the Caribbean. Among them are two B.C. women, who are pregnant.
"While bites from infected mosquitoes remain the primary way to get Zika virus, sexual transmission of the virus is to be expected given that a small number of cases have been reported elsewhere in the world," PHAC said in a release.
Most people who contract the infection have no symptoms; those who do get sick experience such ill effects as fever, joint pain, rash and red eyes. The disease usually resolves in about a week.
However, the virus had been potentially linked in Brazil to thousands of cases of abnormally small heads in infants born to women who were infected while pregnant. After months of intensive research, scientists confirmed earlier this month that Zika does cause what's known as microcephaly as well as other fetal brain defects.
There's also been a spike in cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological condition that can cause muscle weakness or even partial paralysis, among Zika-infected children and adults.
Zika was first detected in a rhesus monkey in the Zika forest of Uganda in 1947. Since then, the disease has spread from Africa and Southeast Asia, across the Pacific to South America and beyond.
PHAC said there have been no confirmed cases of locally acquired Zika from infected mosquitoes, as the species that transmit the virus are not established in Canada, making the risk to Canadians "very low."
However, the agency said pregnant women and those planning a pregnancy should avoid travel to countries with Zika outbreaks. If travel cannot be avoided or postponed, strict mosquito-bite prevention measures should be taken because of the risk of serious health effects on the unborn baby.
Travellers returning from Zika-affected countries and their sexual partners need to take precautions to protect against transmission:
— Women planning a pregnancy are strongly advised to wait at least two months before trying to conceive to ensure any possible Zika infection has cleared from the body.
— Because the Zika virus can persist in semen for an extended period, infected men are advised to use condoms with a pregnant partner for the duration of the pregnancy.
— Couples should also postpone conception for six months by using condoms if the male partner has been diagnosed with Zika, and infected men should consider using condoms with any partner for six months to prevent sexual transmission of the virus.
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