Zika Virus And Sexual Transmission
There has been a recent epidemic of the Zika virus in the past few months, with thousands of cases reported in the Central America, South America and the Caribbean regions. Recently some cases have also been reported in the US region (1). Investigators and healthcare professionals in the US have conducted extensive clinical and research studies to learn more about the epidemiology, symptomatology, transmission and prevention of this illness to minimize the risk of morbidity and mortality.
What Is Zika Virus?
Zika Virus is an infectious agent which is transmitted to healthy subjects via the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. The signs and symptoms of this disease are specific for:
- Body rash
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Redness of eyes (Conjunctivitis)
The illness is ideally managed with simple bed rest and maintenance of optimal hydration. Sometimes, the symptoms are so mild that the person may not even notice them at all.
How Is Zika Transmitted Sexually?
Although, the classical route of transmission is via mosquito bite, but based on the recent research, it was discovered that Zika virus can also spread sexually. The male partner can transmit the virus through sexual contact to his female partner. This can occur in the incubation period (the time period from the mosquito bite until the appearance of first symptom), during the illness, or even after the resolution of all symptoms. The serological analysis showed that the virus stays in the blood for about a week or more; but tends to stay longer in the semen. The women have not been shown to transmit the infection to their male partners.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has been engaged in extensive researches to find out more about the sexual transmission of the virus and its detrimental effects on the pregnancy.
Zika Virus & Birth Defects
Poorly managed Zika Virus can aggravate the risk of developing birth defects in the offspring (if transmitted from an infected male to the female during pregnancy). These include
- Microcephaly or abnormally small head circumference
- Varying degrees of mental retardation
- Guillain-Barre syndrome which is an autoimmune condition in which the body’s own defense mechanisms destroy the nerves. This can lead to severe muscle weakness or even paralysis in some cases.
How To Protect Yourself From Sexual Transmission Of Zika Virus?
For couples who are expecting:
Since the virus can be transmitted by sex during pregnancy, the male partner should take following precautionary measures to prevent the transmission:
- Use a condom while having sex. This pertains to all kinds of sexual activity (vaginal, anal or oral). The condom should be worn in the correct fashion and from start to end, as guided by a trained healthcare worker.
- Take effective steps to prevent mosquito bite especially if you are living in affected areas. Some helpful strategies include; using insecticide treated nets, mosquito repellant lotions and keeping doors and windows closed with mesh.
- Travelers returning to the US after visiting a Zika affected country should take steps to prevent mosquito bite for at least 3 weeks, so as not to transfer the virus to uninfected mosquitoes.
- Not having sex can abolish the risk of transmission to the pregnant partner.
CDC has given few specific timelines for men regarding protection against sexual transmission of Zika:
- If a man has been diagnosed with this virus or is complaining of Zika symptoms, he should avoid sex or use condoms for at least 6 months (from the day first symptom of illness was reported).
- If a man has travelled to an area where Zika in endemic but hasn’t developed any symptoms; he should still avoid engaging in sexual intercourse with his partner or use condoms for at least 2 months following his return.
- If a man lives in an area with Zika disease, he should avoid sex or use condoms till the time the epidemic prevails in that region.
Testing For Zika
Pregnant ladies should be tested for Zika if they or their partners have developed the symptoms of this illness. Other people who have been exposed through sex should also be tested.
In the end, prevention is better than cure, and an adequate level of protection can ensure the safety of you and your loved ones.
1. McCarthy, M. (2016). Zika virus was transmitted by sexual contact in Texas, health officials report. BMJ, 352, i720.
2. Oster, A. M. (2016). Interim guidelines for prevention of sexual transmission of Zika virus—United States, 2016. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report, 65.
3. Driggers, R. W., Ho, C. Y., Korhonen, E. M., Kuivanen, S., Jääskeläinen, A. J., Smura, T., … & Timofeev, J. (2016). Zika virus infection with prolonged maternal viremia and fetal brain abnormalities. New England Journal of Medicine, 374(22), 2142-2151.
4. Hills, S. L. (2016). Transmission of Zika virus through sexual contact with travelers to areas of ongoing transmission—continental United States, 2016. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report, 65.