Sexual Transmission of Zika Virus

Updated 10/28/16

Zika virus is mainly spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. However, there have been cases of Zika virus being spread during sex by men and women infected with Zika to their partners. Research is underway to learn more about the risk of sexual transmission of Zika virus. Based on current knowledge, CDC revised their interim guidelines on September 30, 2016 to make recommendations for preventing sexual transmission of Zika virus. These guidelines will be updated as more information becomes available.

The following CDC fact sheets about sexual transmission of Zika virus are available:

Below are some considerations regarding sexual transmission of Zika virus as they relate to (1) pregnant women, (2) couples trying to become pregnant, and (3) couples who do not want to get pregnant.

  • Considerations regarding sexual transmission of Zika virus for pregnant women:

Zika virus can cause a birth defect called microcephaly and other severe brain defects. Zika virus has been found in semen and in vaginal fluids. Zika virus can be passed during sex, even if the person does not have symptoms at the time.

CDC recommends that pregnant women not travel to an area with Zika.  If a pregnant woman must travel to one of these areas, she should talk to her healthcare provider. If she travels, she should be counseled to strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites and prevent sexual transmission during the trip. CDC also recommends that if a pregnant woman has a partner who lives in or has traveled to an area with Zika, she should use a condom* or other barrier protection every time she has sex or should not have sex with that partner for the duration of her pregnancy. Sex includes vaginal, anal and oral sex, and the sharing of sex toys.

  • Considerations regarding sexual transmission of Zika virus for couples trying to become pregnant:

Women and men who are planning to become pregnant in the near future should consider avoiding nonessential travel to areas with active Zika virus transmission. There are suggested wait times for conception after possible exposure to Zika virus.

The timeframe for using condoms* or waiting to have sex will depend on the couple’s situation and concerns. These recommendations are based on what is currently understood to be the timeframe that minimizes exposure to Zika virus via sex and through exposure to blood. For couples who do not live in areas with active transmission:

  • Women who have had possible Zika virus exposure through travel to an area with Zika or sexual contact and do not have ongoing risks for exposure should wait at least 8 weeks from symptom onset (if symptomatic) or last possible exposure (if asymptomatic) to attempt conception.
  • Men with possible Zika virus exposure, regardless of symptom status, should wait at least 6 months from symptom onset (if symptomatic) or last possible exposure (if asymptomatic) before attempting conception with their partner.
  • Some couples in whom a partner had possible Zika virus exposure might choose to wait longer or shorter than the recommended period to conceive, depending on individual circumstances (e.g., age, fertility, details of possible exposure) and risk tolerance.

(3) Considerations regarding sexual transmission of Zika virus for couples who do not want to get pregnant:

Couples in whom the man or woman has had possible Zika virus exposure who want to reduce their risk for sexual transmission of Zika virus should use condoms* consistently and correctly during sex or abstain from sex for at least 6 months for men or 8 weeks for women after symptom onset (if symptomatic) or last possible Zika virus exposure (if asymptomatic). Some couples might choose to use condoms or abstain from sex for a shorter or longer period depending on individual circumstances and risk tolerance.

Several factors could influence a couple’s level of concern about sexual transmission of Zika virus. In most cases, Zika does not cause any symptoms. When it does, symptoms are usually mild, lasting several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon. Zika is of greatest health concern for pregnant women and those who may become pregnant while infected. Couples who do not want to get pregnant should use the most effective birth control methods that can be used correctly and consistently. Correct and consistent use of condoms* also prevents HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Not having sex is the only way to be sure that you do not get sexually transmitted infections.

For more information see CDC’s webpage on Zika and Sexual Transmission

*Condoms include the use of male or female condoms for vaginal or anal sex, male condoms for oral sex (mouth-to-penis), and male condoms cut to create a flat barrier or dental dams for oral sex (mouth-to-vagina).