As the Zika epidemic continues to spread throughout the Americas and the Caribbean, public health experts are learning new information about how the virus spreads and the problems it might cause. One of the new issues is a growing suspicion that the virus can be transmitted through sexual intercourse.
1) Sexual transmission of Zika (Very likely)
Until recently there have only been a handful of cases of Zika that were suspected of being spread through sexual intercourse, and scientists suspected sexual transmission was very unlikely. But now the Center for Disease Control (CDC, USA) is investigating 14 cases of people in the US who they suspect contracted the virus through intercourse.
In all of these, the women with suspected Zika had sexual relations with men who had recently returned from countries were Zika was circulating. The women themselves had not been to a Zika area, and in each case, their male partners had developed symptoms prior to the female partner developing symptoms. These women were not bitten by infected mosquitos, so transmission via semen is likely.
For this reason, the CDC has recommended that people who live in Zika areas or who have travelled to a virus area use condoms during intercourse if they are having sexual relations with a pregnant or possibly pregnant woman. This implies that to be safe, any woman who is pregnant or suspects she might be, should be using condoms during intercourse until she delivers.
Of course as we mentioned in our previous post, it is critical in areas of risk to avoid mosquito bites, and many health experts recommend that women not get pregnant until this epidemic resolves or there is an effective vaccine.
Rumors are common especially at the start of any epidemic, and now with social media, rumors are easily spread. Here are a few of the rumors that are not true:
2) Microcephaly and the birth defects are caused by a chemical put in drinking water (False)
This chemical, pyriproxyfen, targets mosquito larvae and does not attack nerve cells. It acts like a hormone that signals mosquito larvae to stop growing. Insect hormones do not affect humans. Many cases of microcephaly have occurred in areas of Brazil and other countries where pyriproxyfen is not used. It was approved for use in flea-killing carpet sprays in the US in 2001, and no one has reported birth defects, after many years of use. Further, the World Health Organization has approved its use in water supplies.
2) Microcephaly is caused by bad vaccines (False)
This rumor likewise has no credible evidence to support it. For one thing, there are no vaccines that were used only in northeast Brazil, where the epidemic began, and where there are still the highest number of cases.
3) Some other disease, not Zika virus, is causing microcephaly and Guillan-Barré paralysis (Very unlikely)
While there is not 100% proof that these problems are caused by Zika, the evidence continues to mount that Zika is the cause. More and more microcephalic infants testing positive for the virus in their blood and tissues, and the number of cases of microcephaly in certain areas is increasing proportionately to the number of cases of Zika infection.
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