New CDC Guidelines on Zika Could Have People Putting Off Pregnancies

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The rubber aisle.
The rubber aisle.Photo: Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images

As medical experts continue to learn more about the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease that’s linked to a terrible birth defect called microcephaly, public-health guidelines have been updated in step.

One thing they’ve learned is that Zika can be transmitted sexually, which is how some American women are getting the virus without ever traveling to Central or South America, where the mosquitoes carrying the disease live. All of the sex-related cases in the U.S. thus far have involved men who’ve traveled to that region and gave Zika to their female partner through unprotected sex. Though the body is thought to clear the virus from the bloodstream in about a week, it seems that Zika hangs around longer in sperm: It’s been detected at 62 days post-infection. There’s no evidence thus far that women’s superior bodies can transmit the virus the same way.

Initially, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention freaked people out by suggesting abstinence before condom use in couples where the woman is pregnant and the man traveled to a country with Zika. As for couples who wanted to get pregnant in the near future, guidelines were vague: Essentially, Ummmmm, use condoms until further notice.

As of today, people finally have some concrete advice in that department, though the CDC is being pretty conservative, per usual.

The CDC also laid out specifics for two more scenarios: Women who’ve tested positive or were symptomatic after possible exposure should wait eight weeks before trying to get pregnant. And the same goes for anyone who’s set foot in one of the 37 countries or territories where the virus is spreading, or has had unprotected sex with someone else who did — even in the absence of symptoms. The Washington Post reports that the CDC took the longest known risk period and then multiplied that by three out of an abundance of caution.

Recent travelers who want to be baby-havers soon: Seems like it’s time to press pause and get thee to the condom aisle.