Sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, have been an issue in human society for as long as the human race has been sexually active and procreating to sustain populations on Earth. In the past century, a combination of early education, preventative supplies (condoms), and effective treatments have helped to curb the spread and impact of STDs.
Among the most troublesome STDs for men and women to deal with in recent history, according to the CDC, are chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. A report released by the CDC in November 2015 cited an increase in the number of cases for all three for the first time since 2006. As the nation and world focus on controlling this issue, another STD waits on the horizon with more significant dangers for future generations.
The Zika virus has been sweeping through the South American continent over the past two years, reaching pandemic levels and creating concern among global governing and regulatory bodies that it could quickly spread. Zika symptoms appear to mimic a severe cold or bout of flu, and in the vast majority of cases the symptoms individuals suffer from are relatively mild and go away without treatment.
However, it isn’t the Zika virus’s normal transmission through mosquitoes that has people worried about future generations. In fact, the CDC and other regulatory bodies are increasingly concerned about Zika as an STD. The virus has no known antidote at the moment, but the side effects of it on developing fetuses has a growing field of documentation.
Zika and STDs
The CDC cites that the Zika virus can sustain itself longer in semen than it can in the blood stream, making it potentially more dangerous among sexually active partners than a single mosquito bite. Zika is known to this point to spread only from men to women during sexual intercourse, and can do so before, during, and even after a man exhibits symptoms of the virus.
For all the known elements of Zika as an STD, there are still a number of unknowns as well. For instance, it is not known how long Zika can live in the semen (though it is known to last up to 21 days in blood). Among other unknowns, it has not been determined if men who never exhibit symptoms can transmit the virus, if women can transmit the virus through sex, or if it can be spread through oral sex.
As such, it is incredibly important if you are considering pregnancy to seek out free STD testing close to you before you have sexual intercourse with your partner.
First Case Reported
CNN carried the story back in April 2016 when a Texas women contracted the Zika virus after sex with her partner. The man had recently returned from Venezuela and had been infected with the virus by a mosquito. This was the first confirmed case of transmission inside the continental United States, and set the ball in motion for concern over Zika’s potential as a sexually transmitted disease.
This was not the first case of sexual transmission however involving Zika. A 2013 outbreak in French Polynesia included a Tahitian man whose blood did not test positive for the virus, even though his semen did. Five years prior, a Colorado microbiologist working in Senegal contracted the disease and passed it along to his wife, who had never left northern Colorado or encountered mosquitoes carrying the virus.
Why Protection Matters
The Zika virus is already creating concern for the issues it poses to pregnant women even through mosquito-borne transmission. Hard to detect ahead of time, Zika can cause birth defects in developing fetuses if a mother is infected with the virus. It has been shown to cause a brain-deficiency that prevents the fetus from developing properly during the 9-month gestational period.
If you or your spouse are traveling to a region with known transmission cases of Zika virus, it is advisable that you either cancel your travel plans or take proper precautions by wearing long-sleeves and pants, as well as a strong bug repellant. As it regards sexual activity, couples considering pregnancy should use a condom every time they are sexually active. If you’re already pregnant, you should use a condom or abstain from sex altogether during the pregnancy to ensure that the virus does not enter the body of the mother.
The world may have a depth of knowledge surrounding other STDs, but Zika is a new virus and the regulatory health bodies of the world are struggling to play catch up so they can fight back against the virus.
Natalie Martin is a freelance writer, and when she is not working on her next article she can usually be found in her garden. She attended the University of Cincinnati before turning to writing, and now spends much of her time drawing attention to some of the major health problems that are plaguing the country today. Natalie resides along the Gulf Coast with her 6 year old Labrador Retriever.