WASHINGTON, United States, Wednesday September 7, 2016 – The World Health Organization has tripled the length of time it recommends that people either practise safe sex or stay away from sex altogether after visiting any area where the Zika virus is circulating – even if they don’t have any symptoms.
With mounting evidence that sexual transmission of Zika virus is not only possible, but more common than previously assumed, the WHO extended the recommended period to six months.
In June, it had said men only needed to use condoms or abstain from sex for eight weeks as a precaution against spreading Zika.
But in its updated guidance on the prevention of sexual transmission of the virus, published yesterday, the WHO said that also applies to females with or without symptoms.
The advice comes a few weeks after doctors discovered the virus in the sperm of an Italian man, six months after he first had Zika symptoms. The first case of the presence of Zika virus in the genital tract of a female with Zika virus infection was also reported in July 2016, suggesting potential risk of female to male transmission.
Many people infected with Zika do not have symptoms or will only have mild ones – a fever, rash and muscle/joint aches. But Zika in pregnancy is the major concern because of the risk of the baby developing microcephaly, a condition in which their brains are not fully developed.
For people in countries where Zika exists, the WHO also offers guidelines.
It says men and women who have been infected and their sexual partners should receive information about the risks of sexual transmission of the virus; get counselling on safer sexual practices; and be offered condoms. It added that sexually active men and women be correctly counselled and offered a full range of contraceptive methods so they can make an informed choice about whether and when to become pregnant.
For women in particular, the WHO says those who have had unprotected sex and do not wish to become pregnant due to concerns about Zika virus infection should have ready access to emergency contraceptive services and counselling; and pregnant women should practice safer sex or abstain from sexual activity for at least the whole duration of the pregnancy.
According to the WHO, up to last month, 11 countries had reported cases of sexually-transmitted Zika.
Since last year, 69 countries and territories reported evidence of Zika infection via the Aedes aegypti mosquito – the main mode of transmission.