Zika Virus Was Sexually Transmitted: What You Need to Know

If you feel like the Zika virus is taking over the news cycle and taking over the world, you're not wrong. And it's not about to stop any time soon: the CDC and Dallas County health officials confirmed the first case of sexually transmitted Zika in the US during the current outbreak.

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While we can all agree that we're not going to go around sleeping with our feverish and rash-covered friends and partners, the scary thing here is that no one really knows how long Zika can stick around in semen. It's out of the blood system within a week, which means symptoms will pass and the infected person will look and feel better. But if it's active in their semen and you get pregnant (or are pregnant), you could catch the virus and your child could be born with microcephaly.

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Here's what you need to know about this new information:

  • Outside of this current outbreak, the last reported case of Zika in the United States was in 2008. One of the scientists with the virus sexually transmitted it through unprotected sex with his wife before he started showing symptoms. 
  • Right now, the CDC is still assuming that the vast majority of Zika cases are going to come directly from mosquito bites, and that sexually transmitted or vertically transmitted (from mother to child) cases are still very rare.
  • Only one in five people with Zika becomes ill and experiences symptoms, so technically, someone could be infected and dangerous to pregnant women without anyone knowing.
  • Not much is currently known about sexually transmitted Zika, but the CDC plans to study how long it can remain in semen so it can advise on when it's safe to have unprotected sex with someone who has traveled abroad.

So what does that all mean for women who are pregnant or are planning on getting pregnant? Mostly, it means you have to be a little more careful who you have sex with.

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"Pregnant women will have to decide for themselves if they are going to have unprotected sex with anyone who has returned from Central and South American within a week," says J. Lee Jenkins, MD, an emergency physician, researcher, and expert in Emergency Public Health at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. "Although this type of transmission is very unlikely, as a very conservation option, pregnant women may decide to use condoms if their partner has recently traveled to one of these areas."

Right now, we still don't know enough to say anything for sure -- though experts believe there might be a connection between Zika and microcephaly, we won't know 100 percent until more research is done. Still, it's worth exercising caution. If you think you or a partner might be infected, talk to your doctor.

Stay safe out there!

 

Image via Flavio Forner/Xibe Images/Corbis

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