The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) just released an updated set of guidelines for those either living in Zika regions or at risk of exposure to the virus. Per the new Zika guidelines, men at risk of Zika exposure should wait three months before having unprotected sex (barrier methods are recommended for all penetrative sex) — not six as previous guidelines suggested. And women are advised to wait two months before having unprotected sex or trying to conceive post potential exposure. The CDC further recommends that pregnant women who don’t already live in Zika regions should avoid them wherever possible.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Zika is carried by the Aedes mosquito, and was first spotted in Uganda and Tanzania in humans in the early 1950s. The sexually-transmitted Zika virus is usually asymptomatic, but some people affected by it may experience flu-like symptoms or even paralysis, known as Guillain-Barre syndrome, Cosmopolitan reports. The magazine further notes that the newly released CDC Zika safety guidelines are especially important for people who are trying to conceive.
The new guidelines center on the health risks that Zika poses to fetuses and babies born after Zika exposure. According to the CDC’s recent press release, one in seven babies born exposed to Zika during pregnancy develop health problems as a result. The CDC further states that Zika exposure in utero can cause seizures, hearing and vision problems, developmental delays, and birth defects; therefore, the new guidelines aim to prevent infection during pregnancy as much as possible.
Dr. Peggy Honein, director of congenital and developmental disorders at the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, told Cosmopolitan that “the CDC has been continuously reviewing evidence in published literature based on emerging data, which suggests the most likely time to have an infection transmit the virus is in the first month or two after exposure.” The current research suggests that Zika remains in semen for about two months after symptoms show up, so the new CDC guidelines take that window of risk into account. It seems that women can spread the virus for about two months after Zika exposure, but, according to Cosmopolitan, Dr. Honein further noted that “There is still so much we don’t understand about exactly how [Zika transmission] occurs.”
If you’re not already living in a region affected by Zika, but may be traveling soon, make sure to check in with CDC guidelines before your trip. Zika-affected regions include countries and territories in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Mexico, and the Pacific Islands. And Zika also shows up in the United States from time to time, so a good rule of thumb is to check up on CDC health and safety guidelines before you jet off to a new place.
The CDC’s Zika-preventative safety measures include doing whatever you can do to avoid mosquito bites in affected regions; a good bug repellant combined with covering up with long sleeves and pants can help. If you’re at any risk of exposure — and especially if you’ve had Zika symptoms — make sure to avoid unprotected sex for three months if you’re a guy, while women should wait for two. Regardless of whether or not you’re trying to get pregnant, the new CDC Zika guidelines aim to help all of us avoid a potentially dangerous virus — so even if you’re not experiencing any symptoms, definitely proceed with caution if you’re at any risk of exposure.