You’ve likely heard about the Zika virus, the disease outbreak currently affecting regions of Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. Zika is a mosquito-borne virus, but it can also be transmitted sexually, and due to its potentially severe effects, particularly in relation to pregnancy, is being researched extensively by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). While that sounds scary, we’re here to fill you in on everything you should know so that you can navigate the risks, stay informed, and make sure you’re protected.
What You Need to Know
The Zika virus is primarily transmitted through mosquito bites, but it was discovered recently that it can also be transmitted sexually. The symptoms of the virus are usually mild, and a lot of people don’t know they’re infected because they don’t experience any symptoms at all. Common signs of the virus include fever, rashes, joint pain and red eyes; treatment usually consists of rest and hydration. Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for about a week, but it can be found longer in some people, and it stays in semen longer than it stays in blood.
While the symptoms of the virus tend to be mild, scientists have discovered that Zika can cause serious birth defects if it’s transmitted to a woman during pregnancy. Those defects include Microcephaly, which causes the baby’s head to be smaller than normal and can result in brain damage, and Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder. The health crisis has incited travel warnings for pregnant women to regions affected with Zika virus and warnings for their partners.
Men infected with Zika can spread the virus to a partner sexually, even if the symptoms of the virus haven’t started yet, or after the symptoms of the virus end. Zika is still being researched, so there are still a lot of questions yet to be answered, like whether or not the virus can be sexually transmitted from women to men, but at this time, there’s no evidence that women can transmit Zika virus to male sex partners.
How You Can Protect Yourself
For couples with a male partner who lives in or regularly travels to areas affected by Zika, use a condom every time you have sex. As always, condoms must be used correctly from start to finish, every time you have sex, in order to be effective at preventing the virus; this includes vaginal, anal and oral sex. If you need a reminder, the CDC has a guide to properly using condoms.
Your level of protection and concern will depend on your individual situation, but the CDC also has some specific timelines on condom use depending on whether or not you’ve had Zika symptoms:
- Couples who include a man who has been diagnosed with Zika or had symptoms of Zika should consider using condoms or not having sex for at least 6 months after symptoms begin.
- Couples who include a man who traveled to an area with Zika but did not develop symptoms of Zika should consider using condoms or not having sex for at least 8 weeks after their return.
- Couples who include a man who lives in an area with Zika but has not developed symptoms of Zika should consider using condoms or not having sex while there is Zika in the area.
Although condoms can significantly reduce the risk of Zika infection, they do not completely eliminate the risk. If you’re concerned that you might have the Zika virus, talk to your healthcare provider, and let them know:
- How long you stayed in the affected area
- If you took steps to prevent mosquito bites
- If you’ve had sex without a condom
Zika virus should being taken seriously, but protecting yourself will go a long way toward keeping you safe. For more information on how the virus is transmitted and how you can stay protected, visit the CDC website on Zika and sexual transmission.
For more information about testing for Zika virus visit your local health department or appropriate provider [here] (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/international/relres.html).