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CDC Sets New Guidelines on Sex After Zika Exposure

April 02, 2016

Zika, a mosquito-borne virus that could lead to severe birth defects, could be transmitted in more ways than health officials initially thought when the outbreak began last year.

The CDC recently set new guidelines for sex after  Zika infection, saying that men who have been infected should avoid unprotected sex for six months. The new guidelines come after health officials discovered six confirmed cases of sexually transmitted Zika infection in the U.S.

The first known case of sexual transmission of the virus occurred in 2008, a few days after a male patient began to experience symptoms and transmitted the virus to his female partner. The first known case during the most recent outbreak occurred in early February, followed by two additional confirmed cases later that month. As of mid-March, there were three additional cases of sexually transmitted Zika infection.

The virus can be transmitted through semen, and health officials say it may linger for some time after an infection. One male patient who was tested still showed traces of the virus 62 days after his diagnosis.

Zika, which was first discovered in the late 1940s, has been linked to birth defects such as microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with small heads. The virus also may affect brain development in infants, leading to long-term cognitive and developmental issues. The virus has spread throughout Central and South America, including Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Haiti and Puerto Rico. To date, Brazil has had the worst outbreak of any of the countries, with more than 5,600 reported cases of microcephaly.

The updated health guidelines are designed to reduce the risks of Zika exposure and apply to both men and women. The CDC advises that if a man has traveled to a Zika-affected area, he and his pregnant partner refrain from having sex or use condoms during sex for the remainder of her pregnancy. If the male partner does not show signs of Zika infection, couples should wait eight weeks before sex or use condoms during this period.

Health officials think that one in every 100 women diagnosed with Zika during her first trimester will deliver a baby with birth defects, so the virus poses serious risks. Women who are pregnant should not travel to Zika-affected areas. Those who are planning on having children and have been infected, have traveled to these areas or think they may have contracted the virus during sex should wait eight weeks before trying to get pregnant.

Zika symptoms include rash, fever, joint pain and pink eye. If you have any of these symptoms and you or your partner have traveled to a Zika-affected area, you should see a doctor immediately to get diagnosed. If you have been exposed, it’s best to keep sex to a minimum. Doing so could keep you and your partner safe and reduce the risks of birth defects if you are planning to get pregnant.