Now we’re well into the Olympic stride, it’s fantastic to hear daily (hourly!) updates on races won, records broken and the extraordinary feat of human ability pushed to its limits. But daily reports are also emerging on the Zika virus. Its link to male fertility has led Rory McIlroy to pull out of the Olympics while Greg Rutherford froze his sperm before travelling to Rio. What exactly is the Zika virus and how does it impact male fertility?
The Zika virus is spread largely by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. The mosquito is most prominent in the summer months (Jan-Feb) and less prominent in the winter months (July-August). Most people infected with the Zika virus never have symptoms, while some report flu-like symptoms, red eyes or a rash. The big danger of the Zika virus is its power to harm unborn children. The virus can cause children to be born with abnormally small heads, a condition called microcephaly, which can lead to developmental issues.
Can it be transmitted through wannabe Dads as well as Mums to be? Yes. Studies have shown that the Zika can be transmitted from an infected male sexual partner. The Zika virus remains in semen longer than it stays in blood, so men can potentially carry the virus for longer than women. We do not know yet how long the Zika virus can live in semen, but men are advised to practice protected sex for at least eight weeks after visiting an infected area. Men can pass the Zika virus from their semen into the blood stream of their partner, meaning if their partner is pregnant, the virus can also affect the unborn child.
How to protect yourself?
The British Medical Journal has these tips:
Always cover up – wear long sleeves and trousers.
Apply 20-50% deet
Use a mosquito net at all times while sleeping, especially in the afternoon when mosquitos are at their most active.
Avoid unprotected sex
Avoid starting a pregnancy for eight weeks after leaving an infected area, advise supported by the HFEA.
The British Fertility Society advises delaying pregnancy for six months if you become infected with the virus.
The BMJ also notes that recent research has identified that mosquitos are not attracted to chickens, leading some to suggest hanging a chicken above your bed to ward off mosquitos. However, the BMJ has this advice: ‘Better to eat the chicken, but make sure it’s piping hot: food poisoning is a great risk in Brazil than contracting Zika’.