By David Gutierrez | Natural News
Ebola could be sexually transmitted as much as six months or more after a patient has fully recovered from the disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) and U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have now warned based on recent findings. Until further notice, the agencies said, Ebola survivors should make sure they use safer sex practices, such as those effective at protecting against the transmission of HIV.
The ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the deadliest the world has ever seen, having already claimed more than 10,600 lives. The major route of contagion has been thought to be direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected patients or the bodies of those killed by the disease. However, sexual transmission has previously been accepted as a possibility, and prior recommendations were for Ebola survivors to abstain or use protection for three months after testing negative for the disease.
Woman seemingly infected months after boyfriend’s recovery
The new recommendations were spurred by the case of a Liberian woman who recently became sick and died of Ebola, the first new case of Ebola in that country in three weeks. She had not been in contact with any Ebola patients or the bodies of anyone who had died from the disease. It was later discovered, however, that her boyfriend was an Ebola survivor. She had been in contact with him after his blood tested free of the deadly virus six months ago in September.
The man agreed to provide a semen sample, which tested positive for traces of Ebola. Previously, no genetic traces of Ebola had been found in semen more than 101 days after a negative blood test.
“He has provided a semen sample which has tested… positive for Ebola, 175 days after his negative blood test,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said.
Genetic tests matched the virus strain found in the man’s semen with samples taken from both his deceased girlfriend and from the people who were suspected to have initially infected him. These findings are consistent with sexual transmission of the disease, but they are not enough to prove it.
CDC researchers are currently investigating whether the genetic traces found in the man’s semen were merely dead fragments or actual live (and therefore infectious) viruses. In the meantime, health agencies have chosen to take a precautionary position with their recommendations.
Magnitude of risk unknown
Although there had been prior evidence that Ebola might be transmitted sexually, experts said the sheer scale of the Ebola outbreak made it impossible to test that hypothesis. Now, with fewer people falling sick, researchers are better able to trace suspected cases. In addition, the WHO, CDC and Sierra Leone’s health ministry are now planning a study to test how long the Ebola virus remains in the semen, urine, breast milk and other bodily fluids of survivors following a negative blood test.
“The problem is we haven’t looked at a large number of cases,” said CDC Ebola researcher Stuart Nichol.
If Ebola is indeed sexually transmissible – even if such transmission is rare – the epidemic could actually be far from over.
“You have such a huge number of cases in this outbreak,” said infectious disease specialist Dr. Daniel Bausch of the WHO. “You start to see things that are probably not common but are happening, or may be happening. How do you deal with these outliers?”
According to Liberian doctor and Ebola survivor Philip Ireland, survivors should be offered the chance to test their body fluids for the disease.
“Tests have to be made available, and have to be made next-to-free,” he said.
The WHO is exploring the feasibility of such a program.
“It’s a smart thing to do,” said the agency’s top Ebola official, Bruce Aylward.
This article originally appeared on Natural News.