If you thought the Zika virus was a serious problem before, now it’s gotten even worse. Health officials are warning couples not to have unprotected sex for six months after a male partner is infected, according to Reuters.
If and when Congress ever gets around to adequately funding Zika research does matter. In the meantime, however, related research is proceeding because it just has to, and officials are borrowing funds allocated to other programs in order to proceed.
The urgency with which officials are responding to this newest health crisis stems from the fact that it is not known how long the virus can remain transmittable in semen. Initial studies involve testing the semen of infected men from Brazil and Colombia to see how long Zika remains active.
Usually, the Zika virus is gone from the bloodstream about a week after infection. However, it shows up in urine for at least two weeks. And, like many other viruses, Zika can apparently remain active in semen a lot longer than in blood or urine. So far one sample has found transmittable Zika virus in semen 62 days after infection.
That single test resulted in the recommended six-month abstinence from unprotected sex by both the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection. CDC officials realize that asking people to abstain from sex without condoms indefinitely is pretty lame, especially in cultures and countries where people object to the use of condoms for personal and religious reasons.
Originally scientists thought Zika was only transmitted by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes and was not a threat in cooler climates. However, so far, in at least 10 countries including the U.S. and France, people who had not traveled to any of the areas where it is common have become infected. Their sexual partners, however, had been in the outbreak areas.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is running the study with men in Brazil and Colombia, said, “We are going out on a limb, but we have to. We can’t say we’re going to wait until we get all the money.”