We now know that the Zika virus can be transmitted in two ways: from being bitten by an infected mosquito, or through sexual intercourse with an infected man. We also know the virus is linked to grave birth defects in babies if a pregnant woman is infected at any stage of gestation. Based on those facts, and that Zika is likely to spread to the United States this spring and summer, the CDC has released new guidelines for pregnant women and couples who may want to have a baby in the near future.
Previously, the Centers for Disease Control recommended that a pregnant woman should abstain from sex with an infected partner to protect her baby. Now couples who are trying to conceive are also being advised to abstain from sex, or only practice sex with a condom for six months if the male partner has indeed been infected. In other words, put off having a baby for half a year.
The guidelines even go a step further, advising that even if there's no confirmed case of the illness, couples should still err on the side of caution and practice abstinence, or safe sex with a condom for six months if the male partner has so much as showed symptoms—such as fever, joint pain, pink eye, and rash—and had traveled to an area experiencing an outbreak.
The CDC issued a further caution for couples in the case that no symptoms are present: If either partner has even traveled to an area with an outbreak, they should abstain from sex or use a condom for eight weeks afterward.
The CDC's Dr. Denise Jamieson explains these time constraints are based on tripling how long the virus lasts in the blood and semen. "This is our best attempt at this time, knowing what we know," she said.
It's worth noting in some countries where outbreaks are rampant, like El Salvador, women have been advised to wait to get pregnant until 2018. This is truly unimaginable; I can't fathom being told it isn't safe to have a baby for two years if that is what your heart so desperately wanted. Even waiting two months to TTC is a hardship for many couples, especially if they are older and time is of the essence.
Zika fears have certainly given my husband and me pause about trying to conceive right now. We want to wait and see how things play out this summer in case the chance of being infected here in the U.S. becomes a real possibility.
Sigh. It seems the reality is, we have to be smart, stay informed about the latest information available about Zika, and follow experts' advice. Oh, and pray for a vaccine.
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.