U.S. health experts announced that the Ebola virus can be passed on when survivors of the terrible disease have unprotected sex and could even happen a long period after being declared cured of the virus.
In a study published on Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made public the case of a 44 year old Liberian woman who doctors say contracted Ebola by sexual intercourse with an Ebola survivor. The man caught the virus last September and was declared Ebola free a month later. The woman then contracted the virus in March, a few days after having sex with the man, and it proved to be fatal in her case.
“We have suspected that having sexual contact with survivors could be a potential way for people to become infected. Prior to this outbreak we did have messages given to male survivors to abstain from sex for three months and they were provided condoms,” says Dr. Barbara Knust, an epidemiologist and Ebola expert at the CDC, which has now changed its recommendations.
The CDC does not think that male survivors will have to live their entire lives without unprotected sex, but it suggests that through further research the team will manage to determine the exact period of time men must wait in order to avoid transmitting the disease to their partners.
“I want to emphasize that we don’t believe this is lifelong. We think it’s for some period of time for survivors. The thing that’s difficult about this public health message is we don’t know how many months that is. But it’s not like HIV, where those recommendations are lifelong,” said Knust.
There is no proof that female survivors of Ebola can also infect men through sexual contact after they are considered Ebola-free. That could be explained by the fact that a women’s reproduction system is very rich in immune cells, which are looking for viruses, fungi and bacteria. Once a woman has been deemed free of Ebola, her immune system would finish off the remains of the virus.
Experts from the many countries affected by Ebola and the World Health Organization are currently testing semen from survivors. Sexual transmission of the virus for more than a half a year after the patients were declared Ebola is one of the most unexpected discoveries made in the field in the last months. Scientists believe that survivors of the disease hold the answers for many of the important questions regarding this deadly virus.
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