What you need to know about sexual transmission of Zika

Zika-virus-primer

If you’re anything like us, you’re freaking out about Zika virus after seeing countless headlines proclaiming that birth defects are linked to mosquitos carrying the virus (and to some extent, the concern is warranted). Though the virus is most prevalent in the Caribbean and Latin America at the moment, here’s what you need to know now about Zika virus.

Transmission
Like malaria and West Nile virus, Zika virus is spread by being stung by an infected mosquito. Only about one in four people will exhibit symptoms of it—which include a rash, low-grade fever, red eyes, muscle pain and weakness. There have also been cases of sexual transmission, as Zika virus lives longer in semen than it does in blood. Just yesterday, Canada had its first known case of sexual transmission of the virus in Ontario (the woman’s partner was diagnosed with Zika and had visited a country affected by the virus).

Risks of infection
While you definitely don’t want to feel sick for up to a week, as is the case with Zika, it generally clears up and you’ll be fine. The big risk is for pregnant women, or those who are trying to get pregnant, as there has been a suspicious rise of birth defects in Brazil, where Zika infections are rampant. Some countries with reported Zika cases are advising women to avoid becoming pregnant for up to two years—if that isn’t enough to scare the shit out of someone, we don’t know what is.

How to protect yourself
Not everyone can avoid Zika-stricken places (here’s a list of reported cases worldwide). To avoid infection when travelling, use bug spray, wear light-coloured, long-sleeved shirts and pants, use mosquito netting when possible, clean up pools of water (like in flower pots) and keep the doors closed. And if you have a sexual partner who has either contracted Zika or has visited an affected country, use condoms or abstain from sex (though we don’t yet know for how long)—especially if pregnant. Stay tuned.