Some people who contracted Ebola in previous outbreaks have survived, but the number of survivors from this epidemic is over 8,000. So, health officials are concerned that those Ebola survivors who are no longer symptomatic may still be able to spread the disease through sex.
Ebola is generally only contagious through contact with bodily fluids from victims while they are showing viral signs, like a high fever, diarrhea, vomiting or other symptoms. However, The World Health Organization (WHO) has said, however, that the virus can still be present in semen and vaginal fluids for 70 to 90 days.
With a risk on passing the virus on via sexual intercourse, the WHO and other health officials are encouraging male Ebola survivors to refrain from having sex for 90 days to minimize the chance of passing on the virus. If not possible, they should wear the Hazmat suits known as condoms when having sex for at least three months post recovery.
Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) is operating several of the Ebola clinics in Africa. They are sending their patients who recover home with a pile of condoms.
Men who recover from Ebola need to be wary that their semen may transmit the virus for three months according to the health officials. The WHO emphasizes that it is not just sexual intercourse that is a concern. With the risk of transmitting the virus through sex, the WHO recommends that men maintain good hygiene after masturbation and refrain from sex (including oral sex) for 90 days (three months) or use condoms, if abstinence is not possible.
U.S. health officials have also encouraged this caution from the Ebola patients who have been released from American hospitals. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is telling any convalescing patients in America to either abstain from intercourse and oral sex for three months or use condoms.
With the dearth of survivors to study, there has not been a lot of research on sex after fighting Ebola. After past Ebola outbreaks, there was no evidence of the virus being transmitted through sexual contact with a recovered patient. Simply detecting the virus genes in recovering patients does not mean that disease transmission could take place.
A 1999 study in the Democratic Republic of the Congo followed some adults who had recovered from Ebola, their household contacts and their sex partners (approximately 29 people) for about 21 months. They found they four of the five survivors had at least one semen sample in the period that had the Ebola virus present. However, none of their partners developed the virus even if they engaged in unprotected sex.
Other studies, however, have proven that the Ebola virus from sexual fluids can successfully grow in cell culture. That indicates there is the possibility that the virus’ genes can be transmitted during sex. But there is no evidence that the fluids can infect the sexual partner.
So why the “safe sex” or avoid sex warning for Ebola survivors? There is so little known about the disease, besides it being highly fatal, but why take the risk?
By Dyanne Weiss