Health officials now believe that unprotected sex by Ebola survivors can spread the disease nearly twice as long as previously believed. Scientists thought that the Ebola virus survived in semen for a period of three months. However, recent studies in West Africa suggest that Ebola infection through sex can happen more than six months later. Based on the study, health officials are now warning Ebola survivors to avoid unprotected sex or use condoms forever.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recently cautioned the public from engaging in unprotected sex with Ebola survivors. The report says that the Ebola virus can survive in semen long after someone is declared Ebola free. As a result, they have recommended Ebola survivors to use condoms indefinitely after recovery as scientists do more research about transmission through this mechanism.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention released a detailed report with the case of a 44-year-old Liberian woman who had sex with a 46-year old man who had Ebola symptoms around September last year and she tested positive. She reportedly fell ill in March, just a few days after she had unprotected sex with him and died. However, the man had unprotected sex with another woman around the same time but the woman tested negative.
How Ebola Virus Spreads
The Ebola virus spreads by coming into contact with an Ebola patient’s body fluid like blood, saliva, sweat, urine and semen. Although health experts previously believed that once Ebola patients recover they are not contagious, recent studies dispute this belief and claim that there is a chance the Ebola virus could survive for long.
Investigations of other recent Ebola cases in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have also pointed out cases of sexual transmission from survivors. However, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention these cases have not been confirmed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund confirmed that there have been less than 10 such cases and it has been difficult to ascertain if unprotected sex was the only way they may have been infected.
In Guinea, Dr. Sakoba Keita, who is the national coordinator for Ebola response, also confirmed that a woman in the south-eastern town of Macenta was infected with Ebola after she allegedly had unprotected sex with her husband who previously had Ebola. She also said that apart from health officials recommending Ebola survivors to abstain from sex, they have been issuing out kits containing condoms to all survivors leaving the treatment center.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has taken measures to deal with this emerging issue and is planning to do more research on how long the virus stays in the body fluids of survivors and the likelihood of sexual transmission.
Ebola And Condoms
Apart from other sexually transmitted diseases, condoms are also believed to be effective in preventing Ebola transmission from infected people. Nevertheless, this is not yet proven because they have not yet undergone real-world testing. Nicole Jeanne Broutet from the World Health Organization’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research explained that medical research shows that the Ebola virus which is 80 nanomillimeters can be blocked by a condom because condoms can effectively block smaller viruses like the 27 nanomillimeters bacteriophage. Therefore, they have 95% efficiency if used constantly and correctly.
Very little is known about transmission of Ebola sexually due to the fact that the virus is so lethal. The most recent outbreak which was centered around Guinea, Sierra Leon and Liberia, started in 2013 and has since killed more than 10,600 people. This is a fatal rate of about 50 percent, meaning that about half of the people who were infected died.
As a result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization (WHO) have changed their guidelines advising Ebola survivors to use condoms or to avoid sex in order to prevent transmission until more information becomes available. Given the little research there is on Ebola being transmitted sexually, the few reported cases are enough to have health experts question the stance they had previously taken on Ebola transmission and changed their advice.
Ebola Current Status
Over the past few months, transmission of Ebola in West Africa has diminished significantly. However, there is need for awareness/education of sexual transmission to partners from survivors because it will help in prevention. A supply of sufficient condoms and counselling to promote their consistent and correct use should be a priority as part of preventative measures in Ebola-affected countries. Furthermore, efforts should be made to prevent the possibility of sexual transmission from stigmatizing survivors.
This discovery has raised panic about a new outbreak and stigmatization of Ebola survivors. Just like during the outbreak, survivors have reported being shunned despite the fact that they adhere to the new recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention and the World Health Organization (WHO).