WHO Updates Safe-Sex Guidelines to Prevent Zika Transmission

The World Health Organization now recommends that people who visit areas with Zika virus transmission abstain from or have only protected sex for eight weeks.

Jun 1, 2016
Tanya Lewis

PIXABAYTravelers returning from areas with Zika virus transmission should abstain from or have only protected sex for at least eight weeks, according to guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) released yesterday (May 31). Couples planning to conceive should also wait eight weeks—or six months if the male partner has symptoms of the virus—WHO officials said during a news briefing. Previously, the organization recommended abstinence or protected sex for four weeks following a person’s return from an area where Zika is circulating.

The new guidelines “reflect what we have learned about Zika disease and its complications,” WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier told reporters during the briefing (via NBC News).

Although mosquito bites are the main mode of Zika transmission, as of May 19, there had been 12 studies or reports of sexual transmission of the virus, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. During the past eight years, cases of sexual transmission have been reported in 10 countries, including the United States. All of these cases have been traced back to an infected male partner, according to the AFP.

In May, the WHO encouraged athletes attending this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games Rio 2016 to use condoms while in Rio and for four weeks after returning home.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in April reported that the virus can also be transmitted via anal sex. Last month, the CDC called for urine testing in patients with suspected Zika virus infection. The virus has been found in both saliva and semen, though it’s not known how long it persists in these bodily fluids.