By Sola Ogundipe
Liberian authorities have called upon Ebola survivors to abstain from sexual abstinence or protected sex beyond the recommended 90-day period after their recovery. The caution comes amidst fears that the last Ebola fatality may have resulted from sexual transmission.
Liberia that has been battling the Ebola Virus Disease outbreak for close to a year, recently recorded its first new case and fatality from the disease in several weeks. The patient, a 44-year-old woman, died Friday last week.
Although researchers say there is possibility of sexual transmission of the Ebola virus, no case has been documented previously. More than 10 300 people have died of Ebola across Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Speaking weekend, Liberian Deputy Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah, who heads Liberia’s Ebola response, said there was evidence to suggest the woman may have contracted the disease through sexual contact.
Nyenswah said survivors should follow the WHO guidance for at least three months and suggested they even go a step further until the modes of transmission are better understood.
“Ebola survivors should consider correct and consistent use of condoms for all sexual acts beyond three months until more information is available,” he said.
Liberian health officials were monitoring 211 individuals known to have come into contact with the deceased woman but Nyenswah said none had so far presented symptoms of the disease.
Research has shown traces of Ebola in semen of some survivors for at least 82 days after the onset of symptoms, meaning they could carry the disease long after they have recovered.
There is no conclusive scientific proof that these traces are infectious. But as a precaution, the World Health Organisation, WHO, advises Ebola survivors to abstain from sex during a 90-day period following recovery or, failing that, to practise safe sex.
Liberia has largely succeeded in getting its Ebola outbreak under control and was on its way to completing the 42 days without a new case necessary to declaring the country free of the disease when it recorded the most recent infection.
Sierra Leone, the worst affected of the three countries, concluded a three-day national lockdown aimed at accelerating the end of its Ebola epidemic Sunday evening. Guinea’s President Alpha Conde announced on Saturday new emergency measures enabling authorities to restrict movements in western Guinea, where Ebola transmission continues a year after the epidemic was declared.
To be declared Ebola free, a country must undergo a mandatory 42-day period without a new case detected. Liberia was on its way to being declared free of the disease before its most recent infection.