Women who have been diagnosed with Zika should wait eight weeks before trying to conceive, the US government announced today. It also said that men should wait at least six months after their symptoms first appear to have unprotected sex. Even though scientists haven't yet conclusively determined that the Zika virus causes birth defects, the guidance is intended to minimize the risk.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came up with the length of the new guidance by tripling the longest known risk period for sexual transmission of the virus and the development of birth defects. For men and women who don't have symptoms of Zika virus but who live in areas where exposure is possible, the CDC also recommends that physicians talk with their patients about their pregnancy plans, and the potential risks of the virus.
"These are very complex, deeply personal decisions"
"These are very complex, deeply personal decisions, and we are communicating the potential risks of Zika virus infection during pregnancy for people who live in areas with active transmission," the CDC said in a statement today. "We are encouraging health care providers to have conversations with women and their partners about pregnancy planning, their individual circumstances, and strategies to prevent unintended pregnancies." As part of these efforts, the US Department of Health and Human Services is working federal, local, and private partners to increase people's access to contraception in Puerto Rico.
For most people, the Zika virus is relatively harmless. Only 1 in 5 infected persons develop symptoms, which resemble the flu and last no more than a week. But an outbreak of the virus in Brazil has raised some concerns among the health officials who suspect the virus might cause stillbirths, placental insufficiency, and microcephaly — a birth defect that can affect the brain size of newborns. Scientists also think Zika might trigger Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a severe neurological disorder that affects people of all ages. Even though Zika is mostly transmitted through mosquito bites, it is possible to become infected through sexual contact. There is no cure or treatment for the virus at this time.