Zika virus and men: What discussion and prevention should be happening now?

By Maj. Jodi Brown, Army Public Health Nurse, Army Public Health Center (Provisional)June 16, 2016

Zika carrying mosquito
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus that can cause severe birth defects in babies born to infected mothers. If Zika virus is perceived to be serious only for pregnant mothers, why should men be concerned? New research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revealed that men can transmit Zika virus to their sexual partners through unprotected sex (vaginal, anal or oral). This article provides information on how men can protect themselves and their partners from the dangers of the Zika virus.

The greatest health concern currently is for infected women who are pregnant or women who may become pregnant since a Zika infection during pregnancy can lead to birth defects, including microcephaly, a smaller than normal head of the developing child. However, infected men can also transmit the Zika virus to others during sex because the virus lives longer in sperm than in blood. Since the start of the current 2015 Zika virus outbreak, the CDC has identified at least eight confirmed Zika virus cases occurring among women and one man who had sex with men returning from areas with active Zika virus transmission.

A man's risk of acquiring Zika virus is dependent on how much time he spent in Zika-infested areas and what measures were taken to prevent mosquito bites while there. Symptoms of Zika virus include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes (conjunctivitis). Only one in five people will exhibit symptoms of Zika virus, so it is possible to have Zika virus without knowing it. If symptoms develop, they are usually mild and only last a few days to a week.

Zika and Travel:

Zika virus is currently circulating in South America, the Pacific Islands, Central America, the Caribbean, Mexico and Cape Verde. Zika virus, which originated in the forest of Africa, has since spread to Asia, Oceania, North and Central America, and the Caribbean. The CDC has issued travel health notices for areas with ongoing Zika virus transmission. If you live in, or have visited an area with known Zika virus, it is important that you take measures to protect yourself and your partner from contracting Zika virus. Everyone who travels to or lives in Zika-infested areas should take measures to prevent mosquito bites while in a Zika area and for three weeks after returning from a Zika-infested area.

Preventing Zika virus:

Here are some actions one can take to prevent the spread of Zika virus:

• Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants treated with Permethrin.

• Remain in places with air conditioning or that have windows and doors with screens to keep mosquitos outside.

• Sleep under a mosquito bed net if air conditioned or screened rooms are not available, or if you are sleeping outdoors.

• Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents, and always follow product label instructions and re-apply as directed.

Zika virus information is constantly evolving and changing. CDC researchers conclude that Zika virus lives longer in sperm than in blood, however, it is unknown how long Zika virus remains in a man's sperm. For this reason, men who live in or have traveled to areas with known Zika virus transmission and have pregnant partners should either wear latex condoms every time they engage in sexual intercourse or abstain from having sex with their partners for the duration of pregnancy. Couples should not attempt pregnancy for the first six months after the man returns from an area with active Zika virus. The transmission time frame ranges from eight weeks to six months and will vary based on each couple's situation. For example, couples who include a man who has been diagnosed with Zika or had Zika symptoms should consider using condoms or not having sex for at least six months after symptoms begin.

Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika virus infection. It is important to protect yourself from mosquito bites while traveling to Zika-infested areas and wear latex condoms or abstain from sex while living or returning from Zika-infested areas to protect yourself and your partner.

Related Links:

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

CDC Travel Health Alert Notices

Army Public Health Center (Provisional)