Science, Now + Beyond

Next time you have sex, make sure you ask about Zika

It's official: Zika can be transmitted through unprotected sex.

By now, you probably know about the Zika virus.

Zika got national attention in May 2015 when there was an outbreak in Brazil. In January 2016, the World Health Organization predicted that it would spread to the rest of the Americas by the end of the year – scary, right?

What is Zika again?

The Zika virus is transmitted through mosquitos, but is not particularly harmful to adults who get it. The major problem comes from Zika’s effect on fetal development, causing pregnant women to give birth to microcephalic babies.

The WHO got it right

As the end of the year approaches, we discovered that this mosquito-borne virus has made its way to the United States. As of August 1st, National Geographic reported that fourteen Miami-area residents are believed to have contracted the virus.

Maybe it’s shocking that the Zika virus made it to America. But what’s even more shocking is that Zika has been found to be a Sexually Transmitted Disease. This virus, that we believed could only be transferred from mosquito to human or mother to child can now be passed between sexual partners. This makes sense considering traces of the virus have shown up in cervical mucus and semen.

The national conservation no longer centers around American travelers, especially pregnancy women, visiting countries where Zika is present. It’s also about Miami residents and unprotected sex. Unfortunately, not everyone shows symptoms, which makes it all that much harder to know if your partner is infected. However, be on the lookout for symptoms like rash, joint pain, fever, and conjunctivitis (also known as pink eye).

What are we doing about it?

At airports, CDC-sponsored signs advise people traveling to Zika hot spots to use mosquito repellant, but they’re thinking about adding condoms to the list. After all, condoms are the best method of prevention to contract STDs for sexually active individuals.

Traces of the virus remain longer in bodily fluids than in the bloodstream: up to 21 days in saliva, urine, and cervical mucus and 93 days in semen. This means Zika’s spread across the country could happen faster than we’d hope. Whether you’re a couple trying to conceive or simply a sexually active individual, it’s important to be alert in order to prevent this virus from spreading to or from your partner.

Although we should all be on alert, this news is specially concerning for pregnant women or those trying to conceive. Since the Zika virus has negative effects on fetal development (i.e. microcephaly), and becoming infected in the U.S. is a possibility now (both through mosquitoes and sex), it’s necessary to be cautious.

There is still no known cure for the Zika virus. Scientists have yet to come up with a vaccine, but we have a head start thanks to a Philippine teenager.

If you’re pregnant and concerned about being or becoming infected, you should read this article.