You’ve no doubt heard about the Zika virus, but there still seems to be a lot of mystery surrounding it. It’s well known that the virus can cause horrible birth defects and symptoms are subtle. Another thing we know is how it’s spread: by mosquitos…right? Can Zika spread in any other ways, like oral sex? French researchers are leaning towards yes.
As mentioned before, we know that Zika spreads through mosquito bites, infecting females in particular. The primary reason people fear Zika is because of the horrible brain defect that it can cause in children. Called microcephaly, this defect causes a baby’s head to be much smaller than normal. Usually, a baby’s head grows during pregnancy because their brain is growing. If a baby has microcephaly the brain isn’t growing, so the head doesn’t grow, either. Aside from this, affected babies can also have seizures, hearing loss, and vision problems, among other side effects. It’s easy to see why women who fear they may have Zika are afraid to get pregnant or, on the flip side, are advised to forego travel to countries affected by Zika if they are already pregnant. There is not currently a vaccine or treatment for Zika, yet. And with the news that Zika spread could be possible via other means such as oral sex, this could turn into a major issue.
Another channel which we know Zika spread has occurred through is via sex. The virus can remain in a man’s semen for weeks or even months following infection. Piggybacking on this news, researchers at France’s INSERM medical institute decided to look into the possibility of Zika spread via oral sex. The team began their research with a woman who started showing symptoms of the virus, which includes aching muscles and rashes. The woman hadn’t traveled to any of the countries with reported cases of Zika, however. She had been in sexual contact with a man who had recently been to Brazil and also had a rash, though.
The two patients had several instances of both sex and oral sex. Doctors did note that Zika spread can happen via urine and saliva as well, but didn’t think this was the case in this instance, although Zika was found in the woman’s saliva.
If you do travel to one of the countries where Zika has spread, the World Health Organization recommends that, upon return, you practice safe sex or abstain from sex for at least eight weeks. Zika is primarily found in Latin America, the Caribbean, and parts of the South Pacific, but cases have popped up sporadically around the United States as well. Babies in their mother’s womb are the ones most affected by Zika, as those who have it very rarely exhibit severe symptoms.