Men who have traveled to areas where Zika virus is spreading should use protection during sex with a pregnant partner or abstain from sex for the duration of the pregnancy, federal health officials said Friday.
In addition, pregnant women who have traveled to such areas should be tested within two to 12 weeks even if they don’t show symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The new guidelines come as the “linkage between Zika and microcephaly becomes stronger,” CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., said.
“I understand that this is a stressful situation for women and families and particularly for women who are pregnant and what we are doing in our efforts is prioritizing all of the work we can do to protect pregnant women," he said.
Zika virus primarily is spread by Aedes mosquitoes. For the 20% who display symptoms, the illness is mild and may include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis. However, its link to birth defects in babies whose mothers were infected sparked the World Health Organization to declare a public health emergency.
After confirming a sexually transmitted case of Zika virus in Dallas County, Texas, the CDC released guidelines calling for men who have traveled to affected areas to use condoms during sex with a pregnant partner or abstain from sex for the duration of the pregnancy. Even if their partner is not pregnant, they may want to consider taking such steps, the CDC said. Researchers do not yet know how long the virus stays in semen.
The CDC still is reviewing data on whether the virus can be transmitted through saliva and urine and is not making a recommendation related to those fluids at this time, according to Dr. Frieden. The American Association of Blood Banks and Red Cross are asking people not to donate blood within 28 days of traveling to affected areas.
Dr. Frieden stressed that pregnant women should not travel to 30 countries and territories in Latin American and the Caribbean where Zika virus is spreading. There are no vaccines to protect against Zika virus. Those who do should take precautions to avoid mosquito bites.
The CDC previously recommended pregnant women who have traveled to affected areas and displayed symptoms of Zika virus be tested within two weeks. Its updated guidelines also call for those without symptoms to be tested two to 12 weeks after returning from travel. In addition, the revised guidelines address testing for women who reside in areas where Zika is spreading.
Dr. Frieden said the CDC has more confidence in serologic testing than it did two weeks ago and is working to make test kits more widely available. Providers should contact their state health department to facilitate testing.
Guidance for pediatricians treating infants whose mothers may have been infected with Zika virus has not changed. Pediatricians can refer to an algorithm the CDC developed in collaboration with the Academy.