New Report Says Zika Might Be Transmitted Via Oral Sex

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As the world Zika crisis continues, a new risk of transmission might be on the horizon.

A new report out of France suggests that there’s a chance that the Zika virus may be transmitted through oral sex, according to The New York Times. Dr. Yazdan Yazdanpanah of The National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Paris said that the disease had been found in a 24-year-old woman whose partner had recently returned from Brazil and had experienced Zika symptoms. The couple was engaging in oral sex and used the pull-out method as a form of birth control.

The virus was found in the woman’s saliva and urine, but not in a vaginal swab. The report said that the most likely transmission was via oral sex. Dr. William Schaffner, head of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical School, agreed that oral sex was the most likely route, but also suggested the possibility that the couple was misremembering their sex acts.

“It could be that it’s a moment of passion, it’s late at night, and everyone’s had a few liqueurs,” he told The Times.

Zika infection in pregnant women can cause a birth defect called microcephaly, where the baby's head is too small and the brain doesn’t fully develop. The disease is causing a crisis in areas of South America where the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries the virus, is prevalent. In the United States, the first baby with a birth defect linked to Zika was born on May 31 in New Jersey.
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The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the virus can be transmitted sexually, though the window when it’s contagious is still being figured out. Right now, the organization recommends abstaining from sex for eight weeks if one partner has been exposed. If it’s a male partner who’s been exposed, the recommendation a little different: in that case, WHO recommends waiting six months before trying to have a baby.

However, the WHO has no guidelines specifically recommending restriction of oral sex to prevent Zika (though it is worth remembering that oral sex can still transmit other STIs). Scary as it may sound, this new report is only one case. And while the doctors involved in the report agree that the most likely route is oral sex, it’s certainly not the only possibility. That couple of liqueurs is also highly suspect.
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