Why Zika Prevention Messaging Needs to Include Men

“With so many unknowns about the risk of sexual transmission, men really need to take these precautions.”

By Abigail AikenAugust 15, 2016 11:14 am

Earlier this month, a baby who was born with microcephaly – a common side effect that occurs when a pregnant mother is infected with the Zika virus – died in the Houston area.

Zika infections in Texas are now both foreign and domestic, meaning some people got infected while traveling to other countries, while others got infected here in Texas.

The message from health officials and the media is clear: “protect yourself from the mosquito that carries the Zika virus,” and “avoid getting pregnant.” But Abigail Aiken, a researcher at the University of Texas’ LBJ School of Public Affairs, says that the message is mainly, if not exclusively, directed at women.

“Men’s health behaviors and the way that men interact with health information is often different,” Aiken says, “and I think in this case with Zika, men haven’t really been prompted to pay attention so much yet.”

On why men aren’t paying as much attention to Zika:

“Part of the reason why men have not connected the dots is because – I think we see this with many things that can happen with pregnancy – that the person who’s pregnant, the person who can get pregnant is the one who is often expected to take the steps to prevent something bad from happening.”

On why men should be paying attention:

“It’s clear that sexual transmission of Zika is possible between partners. If a man has a pregnant partner and he gets infected with Zika virus, he can transmit the virus to her, and that would carry the associated risks to fetal anomalies.”

On why prevention matters for men:

“I think my main message is: with so many unknowns about the risk of sexual transmission, men really need to take these precautions to stop themselves from getting Zika virus because that’s the best way right now to ensure that you don’t end up putting your partner at risk.”