(CN) - Federal health officials gave initial recommendations Friday to couples exposed to the Zika virus who are planning to start a family, including a warning that men should have safe sex for six months after infection.
Zika's presumed connection to a series of birth defects, including microcephaly - a condition that leads to reduced head size and brain damage - has prompted health officials and researchers to investigate the virus and determine strategies for minimizing its spread.
Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can lead to paralysis and has been associated with five recent deaths in Colombia, has also been associated with the virus.
The guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that men who have experienced Zika symptoms or tested positive for the virus should wait at least six months before having unprotected sex. Women who fit into either of these categories should wait at least eight weeks.
Zika, a mosquito-borne virus, has continued to spread internationally with more than 30 nations in Latin America and the Caribbean experiencing active transmission.
Symptoms include fever, rash and sore joints. Individuals who have experienced these symptoms are encouraged to get tested if they have traveled to an area experiencing local transmission, or have had unprotected sex with someone who has recently returned from one of these areas.
"The guidance is based on available information about how long the virus remains in semen and based on whether or not men have symptoms of infection," Dr. Denise Jamieson, co-leader of the pregnancy and birth defects teams for the CDC's Zika virus response team, said. "Couples who do not want to get pregnant should use the most effective contraceptive method that they can use correctly and consistently."
The CDC's recommendations are based on available evidence, though the lack of certainty regarding the virus makes it difficult to ensure complete safety for individuals who engage in unprotected sex.
Friday's guidelines reflect roughly three times the length of time that Zika remains in a person's system. Zika has been found in a man's semen 60 days after he contracted the virus.
Individuals in Puerto Rico and several other nations in the Caribbean and Latin America are at particular risk due to limited access to reliable contraception.Follow @@SeanDuffyCNS
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