Active Zika virus has been detected in saliva and urine, a Brazilian public health institute said Friday, posing new questions for researchers trying to understand how the virus could spread.
“It was known that the virus could be present in both urine and saliva. This is the first time we’ve demonstrated that the virus is active [in those fluids], with the potential to cause infection,” Fiocruz researcher Myrna Bonaldo said.
The discovery opens “new paradigms for understanding the transmission routes of the Zika virus,” she said.
But it doesn’t necessarily mean you can get sick from contact with an infected person’s saliva or urine, said CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
“People have already shown that it can spread to bodily fluids other than blood, so this isn’t entirely surprising,” he said. “Presence of virus in saliva doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily transmissible that way.”
Health officials had previously reported isolated instances of the virus being passed via blood transfusions and sexual contact, including a U.S. case reported this week.
Other labs, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, must now confirm the Fiocruz finding, Gupta said.
The World Health Organization on Monday declared a public health emergency over the Zika virus and increased reports of birth defects and a serious neurological condition that could be linked to it.
The mosquito-borne virus has spread to at least 29 countries.
As many as 3 million to 4 million people across the Americas will be infected with the virus in the next year, WHO has estimated.
While most people have mild symptoms at worst, health officials say the virus is suspected of having a link to an alarming spike in babies born with abnormally small heads — a condition called microcephaly — in Brazil and French Polynesia.
Reports of Guillan-Barre Syndrome, a neurological condition that can lead to paralysis, have also risen in areas where the virus has been reported.
The CDC is warning pregnant women against travel to affected areas, and health officials in several of the affected countries are telling women there to avoid becoming pregnant.