Mystery solved? An elderly Utah man who harbored exceedingly high levels of the Zika virus before he died in June, making his the first death in the continental US linked to the disease, may have passed it onto his son through his sweat and tears. That means the illness can potentially be spread in ways other than mosquito bites and rare cases of sexual transmission or a mother passing the virus to her fetus, the AP and Guardian report. A study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine details that the 73-year-old had traveled to southwest Mexico, from which he emigrated in 2003, for a three-week visit and that he and other family members were bitten by mosquitoes and contracted the virus. Eight days after getting back to the States, he was admitted to a Salt Lake City hospital, where his 38-year-old son visited him.
Five days after his visit, the son fell ill, though he recovered. He told doctors he'd had contact with his dad's sweat and tears, touching his father's skin and wiping his eyes without gloves, says their doctor, Sankar Swaminathan, per the Washington Post. Medical staff who treated the father didn't become sick. What's still unclear is why the deceased man had such elevated virus levels, said to be 100,000 times more than the usual levels found in infected patients. Although Swaminathan says radiation and other therapies the otherwise healthy man was receiving for a recent bout with prostate cancer may have made it easier for the virus to reproduce, it wouldn't totally account for the extremely high virus count. The father had also once contracted dengue, which animal research suggests may exacerbate Zika down the road. (Where Zika is prevalent, paralysis cases are on the rise.)