Zika virus: Prevention and risks

The Public Health Agency of Canada has updated the recommendation for prevention of sexual transmission of Zika. Previously, returning male travellers were advised to wait 6 months before trying for a pregnancy. They also were advised to always use condoms correctly with their sexual partner for 6 months. This recommendation has been revised to 3 months based on new scientific evidence regarding the persistence of infectious Zika virus in semen. It is still advised that male travellers with a pregnant partner should continue to refrain from unprotected sex for the duration of the pregnancy.

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How Zika virus is spread

Zika virus is primarily spread though the bite of an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes that spread Zika virus bite both during the day and at night.

Zika virus can also be spread by:

  • sexual transmission through the:
    • semen of infected men
    • vaginal fluids of infected women
  • an infected pregnant woman to her developing fetus
  • infected people who donate cells, blood, tissue, sperm (semen) or organs

Mosquitoes that spread Zika virus

Zika virus is a risk in tropical climates. The virus that causes Zika is usually spread by two species of mosquitoes, the Aedes aegypti and the Aedes albopictus that are found there.

These mosquitoes:

  • generally don't live at elevations above 2 000 metres (about 6 500 ft)
  • are not naturally found in Canada

Protect yourself from Zika virus

Avoid travel to Zika-affected countries or areas if you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy.

Zika-affected countries or areas

Currently, there is no vaccine or medicine that protects against or treats Zika virus infection.

If you are travelling to a Zika-affected country or area, consult a health care professional or visit a travel health clinic preferably 6 weeks before you travel.

You can reduce your risk of getting Zika virus if you:

  • protect yourself from mosquito bites at all times when travelling to a Zika-affected country or area
  • use condoms correctly if you or your sexual partner have travelled to those countries or areas

Returning from a Zika-affected country or area

For women

Go to a health care professional if you:

Tell your health care professional:

  • where you've been living or travelling
  • if you have had unprotected sexual contact with someone who could be infected with Zika virus

Take precautions for 2 months after:

  • returning to Canada from a Zika-affected country or area, or
  • onset of illness due to Zika virus

Go with whichever option is longer.

During this time, you should:

  • take measures, as needed, to prevent becoming pregnant
  • always use condoms correctly or avoid having sex with any partner
  • always use condoms correctly or avoid having sex for the duration of the pregnancy, if you are pregnant

For men

Take precautions for 3 months after:

  • returning to Canada from a Zika-affected country or area,or
  • onset of illness due to Zika virus

Go with whichever option is longer.

During this time, you should:

  • always use condoms correctly or avoid having sex with any partner
  • always use condoms correctly or avoid having sex with your pregnant partner for the duration of the pregnancy
  • postpone sperm (semen) donations

Men and women wishing to donate blood following travel should visit the Canadian Blood Services or Héma-Québec websites for more information.

Who is most at risk

A developing fetus (unborn baby) of a mother infected during pregnancy is at greatest risk. Exposure to Zika virus during fetal development increases the risk of severe health outcomes.

Special care to protect a developing fetus from exposure to Zika virus must be taken by:

  • pregnant women
  • those planning a pregnancy
  • sexual partners of those who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy

Zika virus cases in Canada

Within Canada, the risk of getting Zika virus is very low. All reported cases have been related to travel (directly or indirectly).

Zika cases started being detected in the Americas in 2015. The outbreaks in the Caribbean, Central and South America peaked in 2016. Since then the number of cases have decreased dramatically. Between June 2015 and August 2018:

  • 569 travel-related cases have been reported in Canada

Since 2016, 45 pregnant women have tested positive for Zika virus in Canada. Less than 5 cases of congenital Zika syndrome have been detected.

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