Just when you think mosquitoes have done enough damage, they decided to bring something new to the table: the Zika virus. It may not be as dangerous as Dengue Fever or Malaria in terms of infection, but it can still have a life-threatening or long-term impact. What’s worse, Zika is said to be passed through sex.
What is Zika?
The Zika virus is nothing new, as it has been around since 1947 and found in monkeys in Uganda. Five years later, it was found in humans in Uganda and Micronesia, and spurred an outbreak that spread to other parts of the world.
It was only recently, however, that the flavivirus in infected Aedes mosquitoes re-asserted itself, reminding the world they are still around. Zika can lead to birth defects associated with microcephaly, a condition in which the brain of an unborn child doesn’t fully develop.
Sexual Transmission of Zika
Unlike other mosquito-borne diseases, the Zika virus can be transmitted through sexual intercourse. In the United States and the U.S. territories, thousands of pregnant women have been affected, according to the CDC, most of which is a result of male-to-female or male-to-male transmissions.
Since sexual intercourse without a condom increases the risk of exposure or infection, staying protected at all times is essential. This is especially true if one or both parties live or travel to areas with Zika. The use of a condom must be done between eight weeks and six months. If one of the parties is pregnant, a condom must be used throughout the duration of the pregnancy.
For maximum efficacy, a condom should be used from start to finish, and in all aspects of sexual intercourse, including the sharing of sex toys. Male and female condoms should be used, whichever applies.
In addition, dental dams can help minimize the risk of infection. This can be used for certain types of oral sex, such as mouth to vagina, or mouth to anus. It’s available in either latex or polyurethane sheets.
One of the most effective ways to prevent transmission of the Zika virus through sexual intercourse is not to have sexual intercourse.
But what if a person does not manifest symptoms of Zika at the time?
It is highly recommended to stay safe, nonetheless. This is because the virus can be passed from one person to another before the symptoms start, while the symptoms are present, and after the symptoms end. It is also transmitted by a person who never develops symptoms. If there’s a possibility of exposure to the Zika virus, prevention should be a priority, considering infection can happen ‘silently’.
Symptoms of Zika include fever, rash, muscle pain, joint pain, headache and red eyes (conjunctivitis). The virus has also been linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome, where the immune system attacks parts of the peripheral nervous system. This can cause paralysis and death, in rare cases.
On the specifics of Zika and sexual transmission
While it has been established that the Zika virus can be transferred from one person to another through sex, there are still many questions that need to be answered.
- How long does the virus stay in the semen or vaginal fluid of an infected person? While there is no specific time frame yet, research showed that it can remain in semen longer than in blood, urine, vaginal fluids, and other bodily fluids.
- How common is it for Zika to be transmitted sexually by a man or a woman?
- Is there a difference in birth defects between Zika passed through sex and passed through a mosquito bite?
While research continues, people living and traveling to areas with Zika must be tested for infection. Because the virus stays longer in genital fluids, particularly semen, a semen test is highly recommended.