Health officials now think Ebola survivors can spread the disease through unprotected sex nearly twice as long as previously believed.
A Liberian woman appears to have contracted Ebola from unprotected sex with a man who survived the virus, health officials said today.
Scientists thought the Ebola virus could remain in semen for about three months. But this case in West Africa suggests infection through sex can happen more than five months later.
Based on the case, officials are now telling male Ebola survivors to avoid unprotected sex indefinitely. They had previously advised using condoms for at least three months.
CDC said it is conducting further studies to see how long the virus can remain viable in body fluids of male and female survivors and the likelihood of sexual transmission.
Until more information is known, CDC recommends that if male survivors choose to have sex, they should use a condom every time.
Investigations of other recent Ebola cases in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone have pointed to sexual transmission from survivors, but those have not been confirmed, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
There have been fewer than 10 such cases, said CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund. It’s been difficult to pinpoint that sex was the only way they may have been infected, she added.
People who survive Ebola, and whose blood tests show no sign of the virus, are generally considered to be non-infectious. The virus is spread through contact with bodily fluids and typically spreads through blood, a fact that has put health workers at very high risk of Ebola. People cannot spread the virus through casual contact, such as working in the same office or riding the bus. Ebola does not spread through the air.
But studies conducted during previous outbreaks have found that the Ebola virus can be found in semen up to 82 days after a patient’s initial symptoms. Scientists don’t know if the man’s semen contains live Ebola viruses, although they plan to conduct such tests, the CDC report says.
Tests of the man’s semen did find genetic material from the Ebola virus, called RNA. The tests were performed 199 days — or about 6.5 months — after he first developed symptoms, suggesting that the genetic material can remain in semen much longer than previously known. Earlier studies have found genetic material from Ebola up to 101 days after the beginning of symptoms, the CDC says.