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Scientists Just Isolated the First Full Zika DNA Sequence in Semen

This could bring us one step closer to figuring out exactly how to stop Zika.

by Meredith Rutland Bauer
Oct 13 2016, 5:00pm

Vial of NIAID Zika Virus Investigational DNA Vaccine Image: NIAID

Zika definitely, definitely spreads through semen, so wrap those salamis, guys! But a recent study confirming this could lead to a better understanding of this process.

Researchers have found the first full DNA sequence of the Zika virus from a semen sample, according to a study published today in Genome Announcements, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

Zika has been spreading across South America, the Caribbean and South Florida this summer. The virus causes mild symptoms in the infected, but it can cause life-threatening birth defects in a fetus if a pregnant woman is infected. Pregnant women whose partners had recently visited Zika-infected regions are advised to use condoms during sex.

Aside from confirming a well-documented phenomenon, the sheer fact that this is the first full sequence of a semen-dwelling Zika virus is huge.

"We have many unanswered questions about how Zika virus is able to be transmitted sexually, whereas similar viruses are not," Barry Atkinson, a study author, said in a release. "It is possible that the answers to these questions lie in the viral genome, but many more sequences from semen are required before scientists can see if there are any changes that shed light on this topic."

Viruses spread by mosquitoes aren't usually sexually transmitted. But Zika is different, and that makes it dangerous. By sequencing the genome, researchers can figure out what makes it so unique—and can hopefully figure out how to stop it from spreading.

"This is the first Zika virus genome isolated from semen, but we need many more," Atkinson said. "Hopefully this success will enable others to follow suit."