As summer kicks off, and you begin to make travel plans—be careful. Zika still poses a health risk and we must all remain vigilant. The virus is still a risk even though we’re not hearing much about it this year. The biggest risk is for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant. It is linked to the risk of microcephaly (small head) and other birth defects. Because of this, the CDC urges pregnant women not to travel to areas with risk of Zika.
But here’s where the record skips…
Did you know Zika can be transmitted through sex?
Zika virus (also known as ZIKV) is most often spread by infected mosquitoes, however, a recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine showed evidence of prolonged shedding of the virus in the semen of some men with a Zika infection. The CDC continues to recommend restricted travel for pregnant women or those that may become pregnant but now the CDC also has recommendations for couples. It is recommended that couples use condoms or avoid sex for up to 6 months when a male partner has traveled to an area with risk of Zika. Sex includes vaginal, anal, and oral sex as well as the sharing of sex toys (just in case some of yall were trying to disqualify certain activities).
Due to these new Zika recommendations, I consulted with Dr. Eboni, a board-certified pediatrician and Founder of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics of Greater Houston to better understand the current state of Zika.
According to Dr. Eboni, even though there have only been 21 cases of Zika reported in 2018; summer travel is just getting started. “It’s important to remember that infected people can pass Zika through sex even when they don’t have symptoms. Many people infected with the Zika virus have no symptoms or only have mild symptoms,” says the pediatrician. Per CDC recommendations, if the woman travels to an area with Zika risk, the couple should take precautions for at least two months. If the male partner or both the male and female partner travels to an area with risk of Zika, the couple should take precautions for at least six months. These precautions should be made even if the individuals do not have symptoms, or at least from the start of symptoms if they develop them.
How can people protect themselves from acquiring the virus?
In addition to recommendations for having protected sex, the best protection from the Zika virus is to avoid mosquito bites. This includes the use of insect repellent, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
Is there a vaccine to protect against it?
There is no vaccine available to protect against the Zika virus. To date, there is no medication available to treat Zika virus infections. Treatments may help make you feel better, but do not cure the infection. Treatment includes drinking lots of fluids, resting, and taking acetaminophen if you have fever or pain.
Before making summer travel plans, how do I check to see which areas are at risk?
According to Dr. Eboni, you should check the CDC’s website for an updated list of high-risk areas. These areas include parts of Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central America, North America, South America, and The Pacific Islands. It may also be helpful to consult with your doctor if you have questions about making summer travel plans.