The Zika virus is already known to cause microcephaly, but scientists now believe it may cause severe joint deformities, and could also live in the sperm of infected men twice as long as previously thought.
The Zika virus spent the past year ravaging Latin America and the Caribbean, and recently made its way into the continental US, where it is believed to be spreading locally in Florida.
Health officials have already confirmed that the virus can cause a birth defect called microcephaly — in which babies have abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains — and that the mosquito-borne virus can be spread from an infected person to his or her partner.
This week, scientists have revealed new discoveries about the virus, including another defect it may cause and findings about the amount of time it can live in sperm.
These discoveries make Zika all the more horrifying.
Scientists believe the virus may also cause severe joint deformities.
In a new study, scientists linked the virus to another birth defect called arthrogryposis, which is marked by severe problems with joint movement and muscle weakness, according to a report by the Guardian.
Babies with the condition often have severe deformities, with their joints in abnormal, curved positions.
The condition’s link to Zika is not yet officially confirmed, but the rare defect has appeared in seven children born in the autumn of 2015. Six of the children in the study had been found to have Zika-related microcephaly, as well.
Zika has also been found to live in sperm for up to six months, which is twice as long as previously believed.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends that men who have travelled to areas with active Zika transmission abstain from unprotected sex for six months after returning, if he exhibits symptoms of the virus. But, until now, the longest period of time in which Zika had been found in the semen of an infected man was 93 days.
However, two new case reports suggest that the virus can be found in sperm for up to six months after initial infection.
Two men who contracted Zika in Haiti early this year kept testing positive for the virus, even though their initial transmission had occurred six months prior. One of the men’s semen tested positive 188 days after his initial Zika symptoms, while the other man tested positive 181 days later.
The CDC said it is reviewing the sperm issue to see if its recommendations need to be updated.
‘We want to make the most informed recommendation as rapidly as possible based on full evaluation of the available science,’ Dr. John T. Brooks, a senior medical adviser at the CDC.