WHO: Miami Tourists Should "Practice Safer Sex or Abstinence" for Six Months to Prevent Zika

Have you visited Miami? WHO wants you to wrap it up.
Have you visited Miami? WHO wants you to wrap it up.

Let's be honest: Miami is a place people visit in order to have sex. Our citizens remain locked in a constant fight to expose as much skin as possible without getting arrested. All types of lifestyles canoodle in public here without reproach, young tourists wantonly stare one another down along Ocean Drive, and married couples of all races and genders spend weeks here to rekindle long-burning romances.

But a weekend tryst in Miami now comes with a long-term price: The World Health Organization said today it recommends that anyone who visits the Zika-affected Miami Beach or Wynwood zones practice "safer sex or abstinence" for at least six months after their visit.

The announcement is yet another blow to Miami's designation as a hot spot for sex, tourism, and sexy tourism after the Zika virus hit this summer.

Today the WHO updated its guidelines for anyone who visits a Zika-affected area. On June 7, the organization had issued interim guidelines, which affected only men. Those guidelines said asymptomatic men should refrain from sex for eight weeks after visiting an active Zika transmission zone, because the virus had previously been isolated in semen. Now the WHO says people of all genders should be on the lookout.

"Men and women returning from areas where transmission of Zika virus is known to occur should adopt safer sex practices or consider abstinence for at least six months upon return to prevent Zika virus infection through sexual transmission," the new guidelines say.

After reviewing data regarding a host of different couples — some with asymptomatic men, some with symptomatic women, and so on — the WHO issued its new guidelines today "based on this new evidence." New Times has asked the WHO for further comment.

Even before the current outbreak, health officials had suspected that Zika could be transmitted sexually since at least 2011. According to the WHO's guidelines, the Zika virus was first discovered in the semen of a Tahitian man during an outbreak in French Polynesia in December 2013. This year, the WHO says seven different studies have reported the virus' presence in semen, including one man whose semen tested positive for the virus 62 days after he developed symptoms.

Though most scientists agree that Zika is typically harmful only to unborn children, a study released last month suggested the virus could harm stem cells in an area of the brain related to sleep and memory functions. The WHO's guidelines now suggest that people of all genders should adopt safer sex practices even if they are neither pregnant nor plan to become pregnant.

The guidelines also say that those who visit Zika-affected zones should wait at least six months before trying to conceive a child and that sexual partners of pregnant women who visit areas like Miami should practice safer sex or abstain from sex entirely for the duration of their partner's pregnancy.

At least one tourist, a 44-year-old Taiwanese woman, contracted Zika from Miami mosquitoes before taking the disease back to her home country. That situation represents a true nightmare for city officials, especially in Miami Beach, where the entire city's industry centers on tourism. The Taiwanese Centers for Disease Control asked the woman to quarantine herself inside her home, and her symptoms have since subsided.

UPDATE: WHO spokesperson Daniel Epstein tells New Times that, after reviewing the eight studies, the organization felt it needed to extend its transmission guidelines to be safe. One of the studies the WHO reviewed showed Zika RNA particles in one man's semen 188 days after he'd been symptomatic; those particles, however, were not able to transmit the virus. 

"We figured six months is three times 62 days," Epstein said via phone, referencing the man who'd tested positive for Zika 62 days after his symptoms began. "We did this calculation on the basis that we had not seen any reports of sexual transmission after 42 days after the onset of symptoms. But the evidence is fairly limited — we still don’t know for sure how long Zika stays infectious following the onset of symptoms."


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