Op-Ed

Dos and don’ts of Zika and sex

A Miami-Dade County mosquito inspector battling Zika sprays around a house in Wynwood on Tuesday.
A Miami-Dade County mosquito inspector battling Zika sprays around a house in Wynwood on Tuesday. emichot@miamiherald.com

With the news that more than 14 people in South Florida have now likely contracted the Zika virus from local mosquitoes, we know people may have questions. In fact, according to a recent survey, Zika is on the minds of most Americans this summer, but many don’t have the information they need. For example, half don’t know that Zika can be sexually transmitted. At Planned Parenthood, we want to answer your questions about the virus.

There is still a lot that the medical community needs to learn about Zika, but here’s what we do know: Zika is a virus, and most people get Zika from a mosquito bite.

Many people with Zika don’t have symptoms, and it can be transmitted sexually. That’s why it is important to use contraception if you or your partner think you may have been exposed.

When symptoms do appear, the most common ones are fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. The symptoms are the same for men and women. Tell a doctor or nurse if you or your sex partner has any of these symptoms.

If you are pregnant, it is important to understand the risks associated with Zika.

When a fetus is exposed to the Zika virus during pregnancy, the virus can cause microcephaly and other severe developmental issues. It is also associated with impaired fetal growth and hearing loss in infants.

Zika can also cause miscarriage. Zika does not always cause serious problems in pregnancy, but it is difficult to predict which pregnancies will be affected.

Women who are infected with Zika during pregnancy need additional screening and close follow up to monitor for these abnormalities.

If you or your partner travel to a location with active Zika and may have been exposed, there are steps you can take to help prevent the most serious complications of Zika infection:

▪ If you are not trying to get pregnant use condoms or dental dams during vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

▪ If you are trying to get pregnant use condoms for at least eight weeks before having unprotected sex. However, if you or your partner has Zika, you should consider delaying pregnancy for at least six months after symptoms started and use condoms during this time period to ensure that you do not get infected.

▪ If you are pregnant and your partner lives in or travels to an area with active Zika, use condoms every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex for the rest of the pregnancy.

If you have questions about these precautions or access to contraception options, Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida can help.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has additional guidance on how to best protect yourself and your loved ones on their website.

If you think you may have been exposed to Zika, we encourage you to get tested as soon as possible.

Planned Parenthood providers are available to help you decide if you should be tested. Testing is available at your local department of health.

There is not yet a treatment or cure for the Zika virus.

But we do know that family planning is the primary strategy recommended by the CDC to reduce Zika-related pregnancy complications.

Planned Parenthood is here to make sure that South Florida women, men and young people have the information necessary to make the family planning decisions that are best for them.

Dr. Christopher Estes, MD, is the chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida. Visit www.ppsenfl.org to find the closest health center to you.

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