It seems almost counter-intuitive, doesn't it? The dangers we know about seem to focus on Zika's effects on unborn children and pregnant women. But if you read the information about Zika, you will find that there are more unanswered questions concerning Zika's effect on men than on women. Bear in mind that the men say they have talked in depth with health officials before making their decision.
Unless otherwise noted, the info in this post comes from the Zika pages at the CDC site, so this is the most accurate and dependable info we have access to. This is the link to the main page of the CDC's Zika site, but I'm going to refer mainly to this specific page on Zika and sexual transmission. I'm going to cut and paste things from the page, so you read exactly what the CDC says.
Here's the first thing that grabs your attention, and it's something that hasn't been emphasized on TV.
Zika virus can stay in semen longer than in blood, but we don’t know exactly how long Zika stays in semen.How much longer? Although the CDC doesn't know how long the Zika virus can remain in semen, statnews.com says Public Health England (the British equivalent of the CDC) reported finding the Zika virus in semen 62 days after the patient became ill. This was originally reported in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, but the report doesn't say whether further tests were done to determine if the virus was there AFTER that time. Who really knows how long the virus might affect a man?
In addition, the ability to pass Zika through sexual activity is different for men and women. In regards to women, the CDC says:
It is not known if a woman can pass Zika to her sex partners.But here's what the CDC says about men and Zika:
A man with Zika virus can pass it to his female or male sex partners.In other words, although the CDC doesn't have enough solid evidence to say anything for certain, it appears that a Zika infection could potentially have much longer-lasting effects on men than on women.
- In the known cases, men had symptoms. Zika can be passed before symptoms start, while he has symptoms, and after his symptoms end.
- Men without symptoms may be able to pass the virus to their sex partners.
- In the known cases, the men had vaginal, anal, or oral (mouth-to-penis) sex without a condom.
A few other facts from the CDC site must be considered as well. My thoughts are added in the parentheses following the CDC quotes.
- Testing blood, semen, or urine is not recommended to determine how likely a man is to pass Zika virus through sex. This is because there is still a lot we don’t know about the virus and how to interpret test results. Available tests may not accurately identify the presence of Zika or a man’s risk of passing it on. (Read that again. Not only is there no way to determine risk once a man has Zika, but we may not even be able to accurately determine when the Zika virus is gone!)
- In many cases, Zika does not cause any symptoms or causes only mild symptoms lasting several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon. (So a man may not even be aware that he has contracted the virus.)
- No vaccine exists to prevent Zika virus disease. (This is the first fact on the CDC's Prevention page and, given the first two facts, I think this problem becomes even more critical.)
A further consideration is the timing for having children. The wives of the men who are withdrawing are either currently having children or plan to have them soon. For the women athletes I've heard interviewed, they aren't planning on having children soon. Most women athletes -- not just those being asked about Zika -- usually say they plan to pursue their careers and have children later. I suspect the majority of women athletes considering the risks of Zika are looking at having children perhaps 5-10 years down the road, so they may consider the immediate effects less threatening.
And while it's not a health concern, I can't help but wonder how many women athletes are affected by the lack of respect shown by society at large for their accomplishments. The potential backlash that the male athletes expect for withdrawal is unlikely to affect their careers the way it would affect the female athletes, should they make a similar choice. That's not a criticism of the women by any means, just a recognition that they face different societal pressures.
At any rate, these are the primary reasons that male athletes are reacting more dramatically to the Zika virus than the women. If they're being advised by knowledgeable health care professionals, the men are aware that Zika could have effects on their ability to father healthy children that are longer-lasting than those affecting the women. At this point, we simply don't know.
I know that if I had to make the decision, I'd rather be safe than sorry.