Anyone can get the Zika virus, regardless of age or gender, but media focus is often on the dangers to pregnant women and their unborn children. Many people don’t realize that the risks for men with possible exposure to the virus (and their partners and offspring) are also serious.
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In discussing what men need to know about Zika, Edmund Sabanegh, MD, Chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Urology, puts the focus on safe sex, family planning and prevention.
How long should you abstain after possible exposure?
“We are learning more about Zika every day as new research emerges,” Dr. Sabanegh says. “What we do know is that it is sexually transmitted.” In fact, the virus remains in semen longer than it does in the blood and other bodily fluids, he says.
“Men who have a confirmed case of Zika or have the symptoms should avoid unprotected sex for at least six months,” Dr. Sabanegh says. He adds that even if men don’t have any symptoms but they’ve traveled to an area known to have the virus, they should refrain from having unprotected sex for at least two months.
Not everyone who is infected will have symptoms — headaches, bone pain, fever or rash — but a blood or urine test can tell you whether you’re infected.
Why won’t condoms suffice?
Condoms offer some protection. But, as you likely know, condoms are not 100 percent effective at avoiding pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.
And if you have unprotected sex, you run an even greater risk of spreading the virus to your sexual partners.
If you are planning a family, should you freeze your sperm?
For couples planning to start a family, Zika is especially scary. Men who are required to travel to or live in countries where the Zika virus is identified (or who are just generally worried about infection) should consider freezing their sperm.
“Frozen sperm remains viable indefinitely,” Dr. Sabanegh says. “As long as you know you don’t have Zika, this is an option to consider if you’re thinking about starting a family any time in the future.”
There are three ways men can do this, he says.
- You can go into a sperm bank and produce a specimen, which is stored in a cryptogenic lab.
- You can produce a specimen just before your sperm-bank appointment and bring it in for storage.
- If you don’t live near a clinic, a lab can mail a kit to you and you can return a sperm specimen to the lab for storage.
In each case, there’s typically an initial fee as well as an annual fee for continued storage.
Definitely, you don’t want try to store frozen sperm at home. This isn’t something you can do on your own, Dr. Sabanegh cautions. In a lab, sperm is frozen with liquid nitrogen at a temperature much lower than in any freezer you have at home.
How can you avoid infection?
There is no vaccine or cure for the Zika virus yet. However, you can minimize your risk by protecting against mosquito bites, the most common way of getting infected:
- Always use insect repellent in areas where Zika is found.
- Make sure your skin is covered as much as possible by wearing long-sleeved shirts, hats and long pants.
- As much as you can, avoid areas where Zika is found.
“The list of areas and countries can change,” Dr. Sabanegh says. “The best way to get the most up-to-date information on which countries may pose a risk is to visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Zika Travel Information page when you’re planning to travel.”