The World Health Organization recently updated its guidelines for preventing sexual transmission of the Zika virus — which experts agree is a cause of the birth defect microcephaly — and couples are being told to put off pregnancy even longer.
The WHO now says that men and women who’ve traveled to countries with active transmission of the Zika virus and don’t develop any symptoms are “strongly recommended” to use condoms or remain abstinent for eight weeks, twice as long as the previous recommendation.
Previously, both the WHO and U.S. health officials said that women who tested positive for Zika or had symptoms should use condoms for eight weeks before trying to get pregnant and men in that situation should keep it wrapped up for a full six months because Zika can survive longer in semen than in blood. The organization now says that just being exposed to the virus means an eight-week kibosh on unprotected sex for couples who want to conceive. (U.S. experts agree on this time frame, but they say it’s “suggested.”)
A WHO spokesperson said the group knows this isn’t feasible for everyone, especially those living in hardest-hit countries like Brazil, where it’s unclear when the outbreak will subside. “The guidance is to delay or consider delaying pregnancy, certainly recognizing that this is tough for some populations.”
While sexual transmission from men to women is more common than thought, mosquitoes are still the primary way people get Zika, and there has been no local transmission in the United States thus far.