If you’ve been following the news over the past several months, you’ve likely heard about the Zika virus. What you probably haven’t heard is how it relates to you as a GBQT man living in Alberta. Throughout this post, we’ll take a look at what Zika is, how it’s transmitted, and how it affects you.
Zika virus has been reported in Africa and parts of Asia since the 1950s and, more recently, has been found in Central and South America. Zika generally infects humans when they are bitten by mosquitoes that are infected with the virus. Fortunately, because Edmonton’s has the worst winters this side of Russia, the mosquitoes that transmit Zika stay away from these parts, meaning you don’t need to worry about getting infected by a bite around these parts.
Zika has also been shown to spread sexually. This has primarily been through cisgender “male-to-female” vaginal sex. Earlier this year, however, the US reported the first documented case of Zika being transmitted through cisgender “male-to-male” anal sex. A cisgender male who did not have a history of travelling was infected with the virus a few days after having condomless receptive anal sex (i.e. bottoming) with his male partner who had recently returned from Venezuela.
If infected with Zika virus, symptoms can include fever, headache, conjunctivitis (pink eye), rash, and joint and muscle pain. These symptoms typically last from a few days to a week. There is a greater concern around pregnancy. If a trans man with a functioning uterus and ovaries was to become pregnant and was infected with Zika virus, there is a chance it could spread to the fetus. Recently, researchers have recognized a link between Zika and birth defects such as microcephaly, where the babies head, and possibly brain, are smaller than that of most babies of the same age and sex.
So, should you be concerned? Well, yes and no.
Yes, it appears as though Zika remains present and active in sperm for long periods (the exact duration is unknown). Yes, if you or someone you are sleeping with was infected with the virus while visiting an area where Zika transmission is occurring, you could transmit the virus to others when you return through condomless anal or frontal sex (it is not known is Zika can be transmitted through oral sex). And yes, if you experience symptoms such as skin rashes, muscle aches, headache, joint pain/swelling, conjunctivitis and fever a few days or weeks after having condomless anal or frontal sex, you should visit the STI clinic or a healthcare provider to rule out Zika and/or other STIs as their symptoms may be similar.
But no, you should not be alarmed. There have only been 5 lab-confirmed cases of Zika in Alberta; 4 in 2016 and 1 in 2013. All of these cases were acquired due to travel. Zika shouldn’t change your day-to-day sex life. Unless you or someone you are having sex with have visited an area where Zika transmission is occurring, you should not be at risk. Also, consistent condom use should provide protection against the sexual transmission of Zika much like it does for HIV and other STIs.
All in all, Zika is something you should be informed of but not something that you should be concerned about. If you are travelling, check to see if Zika is being transmitted where you will be visiting and, if it is, take precautions to avoid mosquito bites. Otherwise, Zika does not present a significant threat to the health of GBQT men in the Edmonton area. If this changes, we will make sure you’re in the know.
To learn more, visit:
(1) Deckard DT, Chung WM, Brooks JT, et al. Male-to-Male Sexual Transmission of Zika Virus — Texas, January 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2016;65:372–374. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6514a3
(2) Oster AM, Russell K, Stryker JE, et al. Update: Interim Guidance for Prevention of Sexual Transmission of Zika Virus — United States, 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2016;65:323–325. DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6512e3
(3) Government of Alberta. (2016). Zika Virus. Retrieved from:http://www.health.alberta.ca/health-info/zika-virus.html