With South Florida becoming ground zero for the spread of the Zika virus here in the U.S., many still have questions on the virus and who it impacts most. While pregnant women are the most at risk, when it comes Zika, they aren’t the only ones who need to keep a cautious eye out.
The Zika virus arrived from sub-Saharan Africa to South America in 2014. From there it has spread into Central America and the Caribbean. We now have two zones in South Florida; Wynwood and Miami Beach.
Zika is a virus that typically causes fever, joint pain, headaches and possibly a rash. While this is limited and not harmful to most people, it is the effect on pregnant women that is most concerning. Zika has been linked to a severe birth defect in babies called microcephaly that causes the brain to not develop fully resulting in a wide variety of disabilities.
Primarily, the virus is transmitted by mosquitos, but many don’t realize it can be transmitted sexually as well. A recent study in France followed a patient who had transmitted the virus to his partner after a trip to Brazil. Studies of this patient’s semen at 18, 24 and 80 days all showed the presence of Zika virus. Only after retesting on day 93 was the virus unable to be detected in the semen.
So you’re probably asking, what should I do if I have been to an area with Zika? I would recommend avoiding pregnancy either through abstinence or the use of condoms for at least 6 months after last possible exposure to an area infected with Zika.
If your partner is already pregnant, I recommend you abstain from intercourse or use a condom for the entire length of the pregnancy. While it would be optimal to delay pregnancy until this outbreak is controlled, for many people this is not practical or possible, especially since it is unknown how long this current situation will last.
For residents and visitors in Miami, who may be planning a pregnancy or are pregnant, the best defense in preventing Zika in both men and women is avoiding the mosquitos that transmit Zika. To do this, avoid areas where Zika is known to be, drain standing water around your house and community (where mosquitos breed), and avoid mosquito bites when possible. To avoid mosquito bites, I recommend avoiding times when mosquitos are most active (dawn and dusk), covering exposed skin and using insect repellant containing DEET, IR3535 or icaridin.
Dr. Alan Scott Polackwich
Columbia University Division of Urology