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GENEVA (Reuters) – The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that men and women returning from areas where the Zika virus is actively spreading should practice safer sex or abstinence for six months, regardless of whether they are trying to conceive or showing symptoms.
The guidance is a change from the WHO’s interim recommendation on June 7, which referred only to men and had a shorter timeframe of at least 8 weeks. The WHO said the update was based on new evidence on Zika transmission from asymptomatic males to their female partners and a symptomatic female to her male partner, as well as evidence that Zika is present in semen for longer than thought.
Sexual transmission of Zika had been reported in 11 countries by August 26, mainly through vaginal intercourse. There was a first documented case of a man catching the virus through anal sex in February 2016 and a suspicion of Zika transmission through oral sex in April. Although one man had Zika found in his semen 188 days after the onset of symptoms, the longest period that the virus has so far been found to remain infectious was 24 days, and WHO said its latest six-month advice was conservative. Another Zika sufferer had 100,000 times more Zika virus in his semen than in his blood 14 days after he was diagnosed.