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Protection of Olympian proportions

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Athletes travelling to Brazil for the Rio Olympics have been advised to avoid unprotected sex for at least eight weeks after returning home to reduce the risk of sexual transmission of the Zika virus.

The Communicable Disease Network Australia (CDNA) has released updated information to assist GPs in discussions with their patients about the risks of sexual transmission and pregnancy associated with travel to Zika affected countries.

Only about one in five people infected with the mosquito-borne virus shows symptoms. But infection in pregnant women can have devastating consequences, with severe birth defects including microcephaly.

Concerns about the virus have led to several athletes pulling out of the Rio Games, including Australian World No.1 golfer Jason Day, the father of two young children.

The Australian Olympic Committee has advised pregnant women not to travel to Rio, with team doctor Dr David Hughes warning that the effects on unborn children could be catastrophic.

“We have given a very comprehensive and detailed, but easy to understand, piece of advice to every member of the Australian Olympic team about how they should manage themselves to avoid mosquito bites in Rio, and also on those who have reproductive intentions when they get back,” Dr Hughes said in May during a media conference at the AMA National Conference.

The CDNA said that as of 29 June 2016, 10 countries had reported instances of sexual transmission of Zika, including 13 in the United States. None of the 60 cases reported so far this year in Australia was sexually transmitted.

All but two confirmed cases have been transmission from males with symptomatic infection to their female partner through vaginal sex.

It is not yet known if a man without symptoms can transmit Zika virus through sexual activity, although the virus has been detected in semen up to 62 days after infection.

It is also not known if women can transmit the virus to men via sexual contact.

The CDNA recommends that pregnant women or those attempting to conceive should defer travel to a Zika affected country, while those at risk of pregnancy should avoid unprotected sex for at least eight weeks after leaving the affected country.

Men with a pregnant partner should avoid unprotected sex for the duration of the pregnancy, while those with a confirmed infection should avoid unprotected sex for at least six months from the time of diagnosis.

Men with no symptoms should avoid unprotected sex for at least eight weeks after leaving the affected country, and should consider being tested four weeks after the last day in the affected country.

The advice is available on the Department of Health website www.health.gov.au.

Maria Hawthorne

 

 

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