As we have learned more about the Zika virus over the last 18 months, we have come to recognize that not only can it be spread through a bite from an infected mosquito, but also through sexual contact. This can be from a woman to a man (few documented cases), and much more commonly, from a man to a woman.
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Unfortunately, the majority of those infected with Zika are asymptomatic, therefore sexual transmission can occur with no known symptoms. It has also been detected in saliva but there is no evidence that it can be transmitted from kissing.
Because Zika can be detected in semen for up to six months, the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations state that pregnant women with sexual partners who live in or traveled to an area with risk of Zika should use barrier protection, such as condoms, during sex, or abstain from sex during the duration of their pregnancy.
For women who are trying to get pregnant, they should abstain from having sex for at least eight weeks after traveling to a Zika-afflicted region even if they have no symptoms, or wait at least eight weeks after illness onset (or diagnosis via blood test).
For male partners, the recommendations are to wait at least six months after travel in absence of symptoms, or at least six months after illness onset if the male had Zika.
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Because of this six-month delay for male partners, many men are deciding to freeze their sperm before traveling to a Zika-afflicted region, which can be found on the CDC website. Freezing sperm is a simple, relatively inexpensive procedure in which a man produces a sample and the sperm is cryogenically preserved.
Theoretically, this semen sample can last forever. Ultimately when the couple wants to try to get pregnant, they can have the sample shipped to a fertility clinic, if not frozen at a clinic, and this can be used to inseminate the woman when she is ovulating.
Brian A. Levine, MD, is the founding partner and practice director of CCRM New York. In addition to his clinical expertise and ongoing research, Dr. Levine is currently the technology editor of Contemporary OB/GYN magazine and has lectured nationwide on how physicians and laboratory personnel can adopt common technologies to improve clinical efficiency.