Zika & LGBT Health

The 2016 Summer Olympics brought many phenomena to world attention, including openly gay, lesbian, and transgender athletes, as well as egregious examples of white male privilege. However, one global concern that emerged in Brazil and elsewhere promises to alarm us for some time to come: the Zika virus.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide extensive information about the virus, its prevention, and its risks.

Zika is a virus spread by two routes of transmission: the Aedes species mosquito (which also transmits some other “tropical” viruses) and sex.

Zika produces flu-like symptoms, including “fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. Other symptoms include muscle pain and headache. Many people infected with Zika won’t have symptoms or will have mild symptoms, which can last for several days to a week” according to the CDC.

Some patients may develop the neurological disorder Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS). But of greater concern is that infected pregnant woman may give birth to an infant with microcephaly.

Like HIV, Zika can be found in blood, semen, and vaginal secretions. Sexual transmission can include vaginal, anal, and oral sex, as well as shared sex toys. Infected people without symptoms may transmit the virus to an uninfected person. It is not yet known how long the Zika virus may remain in the body after infection. Last month the CDC provided updated guidelines regarding Zika and sex.

There is as yet no vaccine or treatment for Zika infection. However, there are some reasonable guidelines for prevention:

  • Consider travel plans carefully in order to avoid regions where Zika is present (including South America, the Caribbean, and the U.S. Gulf states).
  • Use insect repellent and wear long sleeves and pants to avoid mosquito bites.
  • Consider safer sex practices (for example, using condoms or other barriers or avoiding vaginal, anal or oral penetration).
  • Lesbians who are planning to become pregnant as well transgender women and men who have sex with men should consider risk-reduction practices.

In a recent issue of the New York Times, Kelly McBride Folkers characterized Zika as “the Millennials’ STD.” A highly infectious viral agent transmitted by a variety of vectors deserves our concern and attention.

About Thomas Lawrence Long

Associate professor-in-residence, School of Nursing, University of Connecticut; editor and writing coach
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