Don’t want to get the Zika Virus? Don’t get bitten by mosquitoes or have unprotected sex with an infected man! The scary thing is men can transmit the disease before they even know they have it and after the symptoms have passed. It is not just transmitted while there are symptoms, which include a mild fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis. The best precautions are to use mosquito repellant, wear protective clothing, and stay inside.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General stated that “reports and investigations in many countries strongly suggest that sexual transmission of the virus is more common than previously assumed.” However, the mosquito is still the main way of getting the virus.
The Zika virus has been found in 38 countries, most in Brazil, the rest of Latin America, and the Caribbean. There are cases in the United States now, though not as many as South America. The WHO advises pregnant women not to travel to areas where there are ongoing virus outbreaks. They go on to further advise women with partners living in or traveling to countries affected by ZIKA to not have sex or use safe sex practices throughout their pregnancy. New studies show a link between the ZiKA virus and microcephaly (a birth defect) that causes underdeveloped heads and brains.
Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare condition the WHO thinks may be associated with Zika. It is being seen in child-bearing age women, children, teenagers and older adults. It can cause temporary paralysis and even death. There is no definitive proof that Zika causes these problems, but are you willing to take that risk with your unborn child? Growth problems, central nervous system injuries, and fetal death are all being associated with Zika.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) doesn’t know how long the virus is present in semen in men who have had Zika or if they can transmit it through sex. It is unknown if Zika can be transmitted from fluids from oral sex or if women can pass it on to their partners.
The CDC also advises pregnant women not to have sex with their male partners. If you have sex, vaginal, anal, or oral, wear a condom. Today’s research shows that if you travel to or live where there isn’t Zika, there is little risk of getting infected.
If you are pregnant and come back from traveling to the Caribbean or Latin America not feeling well, does this mean you have Zika? If you traveled to the riskier countries, your blood can be sent to a lab, but it can take weeks to get the results. Now there are local public health labs getting ready to do their own analysis instead of having to send the specimens to the CDC in Atlanta. Researchers are finding testing urine may bring faster and more reliable results.
As the researchers learn more, differing tests will become more useful in figuring out the risks of sexual transmission of the Zika virus. In the meantime, take appropriate precautions.