The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is looking into 14 new cases of sexually-transmitted Zika virus infections, which if proven, could have far-reaching implications to the government's ongoing efforts of controlling the outbreak.
While there have been reports of the Zika virus having been transmitted through sexual activity before, experts believe that such cases are extremely rare and that the infection is still primarily passed through mosquito bites.
However, if all of the women involved in the latest cases of Zika infection proved positive, the CDC believes that there is no other way for them to contract the disease aside from engaging sex with an already infected individual.
Two of the 14 women have already been confirmed of infection, while four of them have tested positive following preliminary diagnostics.
"We were surprised that there was this number," CDC deputy director Dr. Anne Schuchat said during a recent interview. "If a number of them pan out, that's much more than I was expecting."
Disease Transmission Through Sexual Activity
According to the CDC, all of the women currently being tested for infection had engaged in sexual intercourse with male partners who had traveled to areas where a Zika virus outbreak has been confirmed.
The women started to develop symptoms of the disease about two weeks after the men had developed symptoms of their own.
The CDC informed health care providers about these potential cases sexually-transmitted Zika infections through an advisory released on Tuesday.
The health agency did not make it clear how many of the cases involved pregnant women, but it did stress the importance for people who have traveled to countries with an ongoing Zika virus outbreak to abstain from having sex or at the very least use latex condoms throughout the pregnancy of their partner.
The CDC advisory said that there is still no evidence of the virus having been passed on from infected women to their male partners through, but reiterated that further studies are needed to confirm this assumption.
Scientists in the United States have been trying to learn more about the potential of the Zika virus to be transmitted through sexual means.
So far there have been no reports of infections related to mosquito bites in the country. Experts believe this could be because of the prevailing cold weather brought on by winter.
This makes it more likely that if a resident in the U.S. manages to contract the Zika virus, it would be because of sexual intercourse with an individual who came from a country where the disease has already spread.
Reports from countries where an active outbreak of the Zika virus has been confirmed, such as Brazil, have associated the disease with an increase occurrence of birth defects in babies.
One of the most common conditions related to the disease is microcephaly, which causes infants to experience a stunting of their brain development and leaving them with abnormally small heads.
There have also been cases where individuals suffered temporary paralysis as a result of Zika virus infection.