Via STAT, Helen Branswell writes: First Zika death in the US was indeed caused by the virus, officials say.Excerpt:
A new report suggests the first person who died while infected with Zika virus in the United States actually succumbed to the infection, not a previous illness.
The unidentified man died in July in Salt Lake City after contracting the virus while traveling in Mexico. At the time of his death officials suggested the man died “with” Zika — that his other ailments were likely the actual cause of his death.
But the medical team who cared for him at University of Utah Health Care reported on the case Wednesday in a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine. There, they made clear that they believe it was the Zika infection that caused the man’s death.
“What this taught me is … the spectrum of disease is quite large and there may be a small number of people — whether it’s because of other weakening conditions or unknown factors — [that] could have a fulminant outcome,” Dr. Sankar Swaminathan, the hospital’s chief of infectious diseases, told STAT.
The head of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Zika response concurred with the assessment of what happened in this case.
“In most cases, fatal Zika is associated with underlying illness. However, this may not always be the case,” Dr. Lyle Petersen, director of the CDC’s division of vector-borne diseases, said in an email.
Before the man, 73, was infected with Zika, he had been treated for localized prostate cancer with radiation and hormone-suppression therapy. But the treatment was considered successful; the man was in good health and not on any medication other than the hormone therapy when he contracted Zika, Swaminathan said.
The man had previously been infected with dengue, a closely related virus — a fact that raises a question experts have asked about Zika infection.
There are four strains of dengue, and it’s known that people infected with one strain can have a more serious, even life-threatening infection if they contract a second strain of the virus later. That phenomenon is called antibody-dependent enhancement or ADE.
Experts have wondered if people who contract Zika after having had dengue might be more likely to have severe disease — or in the case of pregnant women, more likely to give birth to a baby with Zika-induced birth defects.
Swaminathan said it’s one of the possible explanations for why this man had such a fatal infection.
“ADE may have played a role, but there’s no way to know how much of a role that had here,” he said.