Zika Virus: A New STI?

Over the past several months, new reports in the US have focused on a “new” threat: the zika virus. Until recently, zika was believed to be transmitted only by mosquitoes, but there is now new evidence for sexual transmission.

Some History

The zika virus has been around at least since the 1950s. It was originally found in rhesus monkeys in the equatorial regions of Africa and Asia. Very rarely it was spread to humans in the region. Sometime in the early 2000s it made the jump to humans as a preferred host and began spreading. Between 2007 and 2014 the virus spread through Micronesia and Oceania before appearing in the South America in 2014. From South America it spread north, and the first cases appeared in the US in 2015.


Zika fever, caused by the virus is usually very mild. Headache, rash and fever are common symptoms. It is estimated that 1 in 5 people infected with the zika virus develop zika fever.

Long Term Complications

Since the zika virus appeared in Brazil there has been spike in cases of microcephaly. Microcephaly is defined as a skull that is within less than 2 standard deviations of normal for size and age. In other words, a skull that is too small for the brain to develop properly. Children with microcephaly frequently suffer from neurological disorders and shorter lifespan.

We do not know if zika causes microcephaly. At this time, scientists have proven that it is possible for zika to be transmitted from mother to fetus. This means that zika may be the cause of these birth defects. Other possible causes have been proposed. It is notable that increases in microcephaly are not being reported in other areas with the zika virus. For the time being, governments in South American countries with zika infections are advising their people to avoid pregnancies until the epidemic is under control.

Zika fever also appears to be connected to the development of Guillain–Barré syndrome in adults.

TransmissionUpdate May 12, 2016

Scientists have recently determined how the zika virus causes birth defects. We can now say with certainty that zika causes birth defects, and is most damaging during the early stages of pregnancy.

STI: Scabies

Scabies is the common name for a parasitic infection, specifically this parasite:

The human itch mite. Also known as Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis.
The human itch mite. Also known as Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis.

These microscopic invaders not only make a meal of dead skin, like most mites, they actually burrow into human skin to create little dens for laying eggs.

Picture a field for of rabbit burrows. Now picture that field is your skin and the rabbits are these guys. This is scabies.

As you might imagine, our bodies don’t like having lots of tiny holes dug in them. The result:

ScabiesD03Those red itchy looking patches? Those are mite burrows. And this is scabies.

Like PID and a few other infections on our list, you don’t need to have sexual contact to ge scabies, but sexual contact does make it a lot easier.

Avoid prolonged skin-to-skin contact with anyone who is infected or might be infected. Thoroughly clean the bedding, clothing, etc of anyone with crusted scabies. Unless you know that it is definitely not contagious, don’t have sex (or naked cuddling) when you or your partner has a skin condition.

Symptoms usually don’t show up for 2 to 6 weeks after a first time infection, so treatment is usually recommended for all household members and all sexual partners of the infected person. Treatment consists of lotions or creams to kill the mites. While scabbies is usually only transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, it is recommended to wash all bedding, clothing, towels, etc in water 72 degrees Farenheit or hotter to prevent reinfection.

The primary symptoms are the raised red bumps caused by the scabies burrows and prolonged itching. The itching is an allergic reaction which will often last several days or weeks after treatment. If it continues more than 2 weeks after treatment you should contact your doctor.

The most complication of scabies are skin sores from frequent scratching. These sores may become infected leading to further health problems.

People who are immunocompromised, have nerve damage that prevent them from itching, and the elderly may develop crusted scabies. Per the CDC crusted scabies “is characterized by vesicles and thick crusts over the skin that can contain many mites.” Crusted scabies is highly contagious because of the extremely large number of mites present.

More information on scabies

As always, this post is provided for information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or a replacement for getting professional medical care.

Go back to The Long List of STIs