May 31, 2016 9:23 am

Zika virus: WHO now says women trying to conceive should abstain from sex for 8 weeks

In this Friday, Feb. 12, 2016 file photo, Lara, who is less then 3-months old and was born with microcephaly, is examined by a neurologist at the Pedro I hospital in Campina Grande, Paraiba state, Brazil.

AP Photo/Felipe Dana
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GENEVA – The U.N. health agency says sexual transmission of Zika is more common than first thought. It is updating its advice to women who have been in areas hit by the virus, telling them to wait even longer to conceive.

The World Health Organization said Tuesday that couples or women planning pregnancy who live in or are returning from Zika-hit areas “are strongly recommended to wait at least eight weeks before trying to conceive” to ensure the virus has cleared their bodies.

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Previously, WHO recommended a four-week minimum period before trying to conceive in such circumstances.

The current outbreak of Zika has been linked to microcephaly, a rare defect in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and brain damage, and an unusual paralyzing condition known as Guillain-Barre syndrome.

What is Zika virus?

Zika virus was identified in 1947 in the Zika forest in Uganda. Its spread was limited to Africa and Southeast Asia until 2007. In recent years, it’s surfaced across Central and South America and as far north as Mexico. Like Dengue, West Nile and Yellow fever, Zika virus is a mosquito-borne tropical disease, meaning they transmit the disease to humans.

Only one in four people infected with Zika virus end up developing symptoms, health officials say. They include fever, joint pain, red eyes, rash and muscle pain, lack of energy and headaches.

WATCH: What are the tell-tale symptoms of Zika virus?

Zika has now been proven to cause a range of severe birth defects to unborn babies, including brain-damaged babies born with abnormally small heads and a rare neurological disorder that is sometimes fatal and can cause temporary paralysis.

READ MORE: Here’s what Zika virus symptoms look like in pregnant women

Because Zika can be spread sexually, pregnant women should abstain from sex or practice safe sex with anyone who has recently returned from areas with outbreaks. However, the same is to be said for anyone trying to conceive.

With files from Global News reporter Carmen Chai

© 2016 The Canadian Press

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