NEW YORK, United States, Thursday June 2, 2016 – Sexual transmission of the Zika virus has been found to be more common than initially thought, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to update its advice to women who have visited areas impacted by the virus.
The revised advice suggests that women abstain from sex, or use protection to delay conceiving, for at least eight weeks after they or their partner return from Zika-affected areas.
On Tuesday, the WHO said that couples or women planning pregnancy “are strongly recommend to wait at least eight weeks before trying to conceive,” to ensure that their bodies were clear of the virus.
The new recommendation doubles the abstinence period previously advised by the world health body.
— WHO (@WHO) June 1, 2016
It was made after scientists found the virus lingers longer than previously thought in blood or other body fluids, according to WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier.
If the male partner in a couple planning pregnancy has symptoms of the Zika virus, the period of safe abstinence should be six months, Lindmeier added.
“People should practise safer sex or abstain for at least eight weeks if they are returning from Zika-affected areas,” he told reporters at a news briefing.
“The previous recommendation suggested a period of at least four weeks, so we’re upping (it).”
Here are the WHO’s new safe-sex guidelines for Zika https://t.co/izzFtlum6h
— TIME.com (@TIME) June 1, 2016
He added that the new guidelines “reflect what we have learned about Zika disease and its complications.”
Asked if this new advice effectively amounted to a ban on pregnancies in Brazil, where the virus first appeared in the Americas a year ago, Lindmeier responded: “The guidance is to delay or consider delaying pregnancy, certainly recognizing that this is tough for some populations.”
The WHO spokesman said scientists are still investigating how long the virus can be traced in saliva, but these tests have so far been inconclusive.
“All this is being studied to see where else we find the virus and how long it remains there,” he said.
The current outbreak of Zika has been strongly linked to microcephaly, a birth defect in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and severe brain damage, as well as other neurological conditions in adults including Guillain-Barre syndrome that can trigger paralysis.
Scientists studying the outbreak in Brazil are becoming increasingly concerned that the virus may also be responsible for serious vision problems.