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Member Research and Reports

UNC: New Research Shows Women Potentially Can Spread Zika Virus to Sexual Partners for Up to Six Months after Infection

Women who are infected with the Zika virus potentially can spread the virus to sexual partners for up to six months after infection. This finding prolongs the period of time following acute infection that the virus was known to be present in vaginal secretions.

Dr. Sylvia Becker-Dreps, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Health, is co-author of the paper “Prolonged Shedding of Zika Virus RNA in Vaginal Secretions, Nicaragua,” which was published in the April 2019 issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, a publication of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Though we knew Zika had been detected in vaginal secretions, our study found that the virus could still shed into secretions for a longer period of time than previously thought – in one of the five women, for up to 180 days,” says  Dr. Becker-Dreps, who is the director of the UNC Program in Nicaragua. “The CDC currently says women in Zika endemic areas should not try to conceive for two months following infection, but our study shows that vaginal shedding lasts for longer than that period of time.”

The study followed five Nicaraguan women identified in the acute infection phase of the Zika virus. Participants used swabs to collect specimens of vaginal secretions to be tested for presence of the virus. Of the five women, one still showed the virus in a sample taken at 180 days past infection, compared with results showing a final positive sample between 21 and 60 days for the other four participants. These are serious findings, as they clarify the potential for sexual transmission of the Zika virus, or possibly, ascending fetal infection in a pregnant woman.

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