Ebola virus can remain live in men’s sperm for up to three MONTHS, health experts warn as the death toll nears 7,000
Men who recover from Ebola must abstain from having sex for three months or risk passing on the disease in their semen, health experts have warned.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said the virus, which has claimed almost 7,000 lives in West Africa this year, can remain in a survivor’s seminal fluid for 82 days.
The WHO said: ‘Men who have recovered from Ebola virus disease should be aware that seminal fluid may be infectious for as long as three months after onset of symptoms.
‘Because of the potential to transmit the virus sexually during this time, they should maintain good personal hygiene after masturbation, and either abstain from sex (including oral sex) for three months after onset of symptoms, or use condoms if abstinence is not possible.’
Four studies examining a total of 43 patients found three men who survived the disease still had the live virus in their semen 40 days, 61 days and 82 days respectively, after the onset of symptoms.
Experts at the WHO said no case of sexual transmission of Ebola has been documented.
They added it is unclear whether semen that tests positive for the virus is actually infectious.
The four studies were carried out in different countries, and the first dates back more than 30 years.
The disease is highly contagious, and is spread via bodily fluids including blood, saliva and faeces.
More than 16,000 people are known to have been infected with Ebola since the current outbreak began in December last year.
Of those, 6,928 people have died, according to the UN health agency.
The virus causes haemorrhagic fever, and as yet there is no cure or vaccine.
Almost all cases and all but 15 deaths have been in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia – the countries hardest hit during this outbreak.
In the last week the WHO reported 600 new cases across the three nations.
Symptoms include fever, headache, diarrhoea, vomiting and in extreme cases, internal bleeding.
Two months ago the WHO launched an ambitious plan to stop the outbreak in West Africa.
Experts aimed to isolate 70 per cent of victims in the three hardest-hit countries by December 1.
New data reveals there have been a total of 16,169 cases in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and approximately three dozen cases elsewhere.
Liberia has recorded the highest number of cases and deaths, but the rate of infection is currently slowing there. In contrast, the disease is now spreading fastest in Sierra Leone.
Out of the three West African countries, only Guinea was on track to meet the December 1 goal, according to an update from WHO.
In Liberia, only 23 per cent of cases are isolated and 26 per cent of the required burial teams are in place.
In Sierra Leone, about 40 per cent of cases are isolated while 27 per cent of burial teams are prepared and ready.
The outbreak of Ebola was first reported in Guinea in March and spiralled out of control after being declared a public health emergency in August.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, who is directing the World Health Organisation’s response to Ebola, acknowledged in October that reaching today’s goal would be ‘really pushing the system hard’.
He said: ‘If we don’t do it in 60 days and we take 90 days: No. 1, a lot more people will die that shouldn’t; and No. 2, we will need that much more capacity on the ground to be able to manage the caseload.’
In recent weeks, there have been some successes in curbing the deadly disease, with cases in Liberia and Guinea appearing to be declining or stabilising.
However, the areas around Sierra Leone’s capital and a district in the country’s north are seeing a severe surge in cases.
Oyewale Tomori, of Redeemer’s University in Nigeria, who sits on WHO’s Emergency Ebola committee, said failing to reach the target now suggests Ebola will spread even further as capacities to respond become even more stretched.
‘We need to redouble our efforts to see what we can do to reduce the spread and catch up with the virus,’ he said.
‘Right now, it doesn’t look good.’
Dr. David Heymann, an Ebola expert who previously worked for the WHO, said: ‘We hope that what we’re seeing in Liberia will continue, but unfortunately what can happen with Ebola is that it can go to new countries, as it has already to Mali.
‘The most dangerous thing would be if people now think Ebola is over and become complacent.’
Earlier this month, the U.S. announced it was scaling back the size and number of Ebola clinics it had initially promised to build in Liberia, citing a drop in cases.
The ultimate goal of WHO’s plan now is to isolate all Ebola patients and provide safe burials by January 1.
They believe that the number of deaths is likely far higher, given the difficulty in collecting comprehensive figures and with Ebola having a high fatality rate.
The first case discovered in the current outbreak was in Guinea in December 2013.
In Mali, the most recent county in the region hit by Ebola, the WHO spoke of eight confirmed cases, six of which had proved fatal.
The tolls in Nigeria (eight fatalitie) and Senegal (one sole case) have remained unchanged for 57 days. Both countries have thus been taken off the danger list.
People caring for the sick or handling the bodies of people infected Ebola are especially exposed.
Health workers have been among the worst hit, with 340 deaths out of 592 cases.
Outside of Africa, there have been four Ebola cases diagnosed in the United States one of which was fatal.
There has also been one confirmed case in Spain, a nurse who has recovered.