Scientist Gives Insect-Borne Disease to Wife During Sex, Makes Virological History

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Photo: James Gathany/CDC

Let me just say first: Everyone in this story is fine. The insect-borne illness in question has worn off, even if the rest of us come down with a case of the willies.

Biologist Brian Foy went to Senegal to collect samples from mosquitoes for his study about malaria. Then he came home to Colorado, had a joyous and intimate reunion with his wife, Joy, and weird things started happening. Within five days, both he and his PhD student Kevin Kobylinski, who was also on the trip, had fallen ill with rashes on their torsos, extreme fatigue, headaches, and swollen, painful joints. They didn't have malaria — so what was going on?

A couple weeks later, Joy Foy fell ill with malaise, chills, headaches, hypersensitivity to light, and muscle pains. (But the Foys' four kids were perfectly fine.) Gradually, the symptoms receded, leaving the patients stumped as to exactly what had been the problem.

The CDC suggested they might have had dengue fever. Or, at least, they thought the two guys might have had it. They weren't sure what Joy had experienced. Brian Foy got the idea to test samples he had collected from himself, his wife, and his student (good scientist!) for Zika virus, an obscure cousin of dengue. They came back positive.

Here's the twist: Joy had to have gotten it from contact with her husband. As explained in Science, "The three tropical Aedes mosquito species known to transmit Zika don't live in northern Colorado" [dramatic emphasis mine].

And so the Foys are the stars of a new study in Emerging Infectious Diseases, which suggests that Brian passed the Zika virus to Joy though "vaginal intercourse in the days after patient 1 returned home but before the onset of his clinical illness." In an interview with Science, Brian Foy admitted to being the anonymous "patient 1" and added that even if he had some fun on his return, "My wife wasn't happy with what happened afterwards."

Sex After a Field Trip Yields Scientific First [Science]