Zika Virus May Be Spread Through Sex, Health Officials Say

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Newman_zika-can-be-spread-through-sex_140216The Zika virus has been generating worldwide fear for its ability to cause brain damage in developing fetuses. Now, new research suggests that the virus may be spread through sexual activity, like an STD.

The Zika virus gained worldwide attention late last year after an outbreak of the virus in Brazil, Mexico, and other South American countries.

While the virus usually only causes mild symptoms in adults, doctors noticed that areas with an outbreak of Zika virus also saw a sharp increase in the number of pregnant mothers who gave birth to babies with microcephaly. Microcephaly is a birth defect where babies are born with abnormally small heads, resulting from incomplete brain development.

Now, research has confirmed the link between the Zika virus and brain damage/birth defects in newborn children, causing worldwide panic and responses from governments across the world.

Cases of Zika virus have now been found in the U.S. and Europe. Zika virus is present in the blood of infected people and is primarily spread through mosquito bites.

However, researchers from Public Health England have now found Zika virus in the semen of an infected patient. Even more troubling, the semen still tested positive for Zika virus after 62 days, which suggests the virus could remain transmissible for months after the initial infection.

This finding suggests that Zika virus could be spread through sexual intercourse like an STD. People who have sex with an infected person could end up catching the virus.

Two previous cases of Zika viruses have been linked to sexual intercourse, but more research has to be done to confirm the link.

However, officials from Public Health England believe the evidence is strong enough that people should take precautions. They issued several recommendations for safe-sex practices that could help stop the spread of Zika virus.

Public Health England said that any man who is returning from a country with an outbreak of Zika virus, such as Brazil, should wear condoms until a month after their return. As well, men who may have had Zika virus should wear condoms for six months after their symptoms disappear.

Pregnant women and women who are trying to become pregnant are advised to take precautions. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that men returning from places with Zika virus should use condoms and should not have sex with pregnant women.

Researchers are unsure how long Zika virus could remain in semen. The semen sample was only tested after 27 and 62 days. It is unknown whether the virus could last beyond the 62 days.

As well, while the semen tested positive for Zika virus, the researchers did not confirm the virus was live (which means it could be spread). More research will have to be done to find out if the virus is transmissible.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Branswell, H., “Zika virus may persist in semen for months, scientists say,” STAT, February 12, 2016; https://www.statnews.com/2016/02/12/zika-semen/, last accessed February 14, 2016.

“Zika Virus,” Center for Disease Control and Prevention, February 3, 2016; http://www.cdc.gov/zika/symptoms/index.html