Zika Virus Being Transmitted Through Sex, Officials Worry

It is clear that the Zika virus is worrisome to women who are pregnant, seeing as it poses high risk to unborn fetuses. Yet, new information that has been discovered by health care professionals has women needing to be educated on the possibility of the virus being transmitted sexually.

Although, until this point, the primary focus was on transmission mainly coming from mosquitoes carrying the virus, there is a new threat. The New York Times shares this information that has health care officials concerned.

“While mosquitoes are the primary carriers of the virus, which has swept across the Americas and the Caribbean, infecting tens of thousands of people and causing devastating birth defects in more than 1,800 newborns, health officials are increasingly concerned that the threat of sexual transmission remains little understood, largely underpublicized and worryingly underestimated.”

Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, who is the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stated in an article earlier this week that Zika was “an unprecendented emergency.” He added that “Never before, to our knowledge, has a mosquito-borne virus been associated with human birth defects or been capable of sexual transmission.”

There have been 491 Zika cases so far, and although the majority have been contracted via mosquito, four cases have been contracted via sexual intercourse. New York City now accounts for approximately one quarter of the Zika cases in the United States. Over 3,000 pregnant women have been tested and screened for the virus.

The publication shares that it is unlikely that there will be sustained transmission via mosquito in the nation, due to many people traveling back and forth from New York to Zika hot zones. It is the best city to closely study the virus and to discover alternate manners that the virus is transmitted, as well as how to prevent the spread.

The spread of the virus sexually is still largely contested and the ability for the spread to continue via mosquito all has to do with climate and geography. Areas with warm tropical environments are where the mosquitoes will continue to thrive.

Experts do agree that if transmission by sex becomes a prominent way that the virus is spread, the challenge to contain the virus will become extremely difficult. The issue would also likely spark more debate on all subjects revolving around family planning and birth control.

To contain the spread of the disease by sexual means, all men and women who are traveling to places where Zika is spreading rampantly are being told to abstain from sex for at least eight weeks, or to use condoms for at least six months. Those who are pregnant in areas that have a presence of the disease or have partners who have traveled to Zika hot zones, are told to have their partner use condoms or to abstain from sex for the duration of the pregnancy.

Dr. Gary Mazer shares about the response he has gotten when telling patients these recommendations.

“Those recommendations come as a pretty big shock to our patients. Many people have no idea.”

In a poll, only 5 percent knew that using condoms or abstaining from sex was a practice that could keep individuals Zika-free. Many were only aware that they should avoid mosquitoes. Studies that have been done have proven that the virus remains with the infected for many months following infection. New York Times relays those findings.

“In two studies published on Thursday in a European journal of infectious diseases, scientists described two cases in which the semen of men who contracted Zika in Haiti early this year continued to test positive for the virus past six months, raising questions about the current guidelines. The semen of one man tested positive 188 days after he first experienced symptoms of the illness, the other on day 181 — twice as long as previously documented.”

[Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images]