Zika and Sexual Transmission
Basics of Zika Virus and Sex
- Zika can be passed through sex from a person who has Zika to sex partners.
- Sex includes vaginal, anal, oral sex, and the sharing of sex toys.
- Only people with sex partners who live in or traveled to an area with Zika are at risk for getting Zika through sex.
- Zika can be passed through sex, even if the person does not have symptoms at the time.
- It can be passed from a person with Zika before their symptoms start, while they have symptoms, and after their symptoms end.
- Though not well documented, the virus may also be passed by a person who carries the virus but never develops symptoms.
- Studies are underway to find out how long Zika stays in the semen and vaginal fluids of people who have Zika, and how long it can be passed to sex partners. We know that Zika can remain in semen longer than in other body fluids, including vaginal fluids, urine, and blood.
- Condoms and other barriers* can reduce the chance of getting Zika from sex.
- Barriers that prevent passing Zika through sex include male and female condoms and dental dams.
- Dental dams are latex or polyurethane sheets used between the mouth and vagina or anus during oral sex.
- To be effective, condoms should be used from start to finish, every time during vaginal, anal, and oral sex.
- Not sharing sex toys can also reduce the risk of spreading Zika to sex partners.
- Not having sex eliminates the risk of getting Zika from sex.
*For the purposes of this webpage, all barriers will be referred to as condoms.
What CDC is Doing
CDC and other public health partners continue to study Zika virus and how it is spread and will share new information as it becomes available. This continuing research may help us find out:
- How common it is for Zika to be passed during sex by a man or woman.
- If Zika can be passed through saliva during deep kissing.
- If Zika passed to a pregnant woman during sex has a different risk for birth defects than Zika transmitted by a mosquito bite.
How to Prevent Sexual Transmission of Zika
The risk of Zika from sex is of greatest concern for pregnant women, who can pass Zika to their developing fetus if infected during pregnancy. Because Zika can cause birth defects, pregnant women with partners who live in or traveled to an area with Zika should protect themselves throughout their pregnancy.
Pregnant couples should:
- Use condoms every time they have sex or not have sex throughout the pregnancy. This is important, even if the partner does not have symptoms of Zika or feel sick.
- Not share sex toys throughout the pregnancy.
- Take steps to prevent mosquito bites while in an area with Zika. Zika is mainly spread by the bite of infected mosquitoes.
- Travelers should take steps to prevent mosquito bites for 3 weeks after returning from an area with Zika, even if they do not feel sick. This is because you can have Zika in your blood and a mosquito can bite you, get infected with Zika virus, and spread the virus to other people.
Pregnant couples who are concerned that one of them may have Zika should tell their healthcare provider immediately about:
- Any symptoms
- Each partner’s travel history
- How long either partner stayed in an area with Zika
- If either partner took steps to prevent mosquito bites while travelling
- If they had sex without a condom
Couples Considering Pregnancy
Others Concerned About the Sexual Transmission of Zika
Anyone not concerned about pregnancy that wants to avoid getting or passing Zika during sex can use condoms every time they have sex, or not have sex. The recommended period of time for taking these precautions will depend on the couple’s situation.
- At least 8 weeks after a Zika diagnosis or start of symptoms if the traveling partner is female.
- At least 6 months after a Zika diagnosis or start of symptoms if the traveling partner is male. This extended period is because Zika stays in semen longer than in other body fluids.
- At least 8 weeks after returning if the traveling partner (male or female) has no symptoms.
Couples living in an area with Zika can use condoms or not have sex as long as there is Zika in the area. If either partner develops symptoms of Zika or has concerns, they should talk to a healthcare provider.
Couples who are considering condoms or abstinence should weigh the personal risks and benefits, including
- The mild nature of the illness for many people**
- Either partner’s exposure to mosquitoes while in an area with Zika
- Plans for pregnancy (if appropriate) and access to birth control
- Access to condoms
- Desire for intimacy, including willingness to use condoms or not have sex
- Ability to use condoms or not have sex
**In many cases, Zika does not cause any symptoms or causes only mild symptoms lasting several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon.
Sexual Transmission and Testing
- Pregnant women with possible sexual exposure to Zika should be tested for Zika infection.
- CDC recommends Zika virus testing for people who may have been exposed to Zika through sex and who have Zika symptoms.
- Testing blood, semen, vaginal fluids, or urine is not recommended to determine how likely a person is to pass Zika virus through sex. This is because there is still a lot we don’t know about the virus and how to interpret test results. Available tests may not accurately identify the presence of Zika or a person’s risk of passing it on through sex.
- As we learn more and as tests improve, these tests may become more helpful for determining a person’s risk of passing Zika through sex.
- Page last reviewed: February 21, 2016
- Page last updated: July 28, 2016
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