Sunday, May 3, 2015

Sexual Transmission as a Possible Route of Infection for Ebola

More evidence of sex as a possible mode of transmission for the Ebola virus recently emerged out of Liberia this week.  A Liberian woman contracted the virus in March despite having no contact with deceased Ebola victims or those displaying Ebola-like symptoms, and no travel history to countries where Ebola is currently active.  However, this woman did have unprotected vaginal intercourse with an Ebola survivor a week before she developed symptoms, leading investigators to suspect sex as the mode of transmission.

Sexual transmission of the virus has long been suspected, as the virus has been found to linger in the sperm of men for up to 101 days after development of symptoms.   However, if sexual transmission is indeed the route of transmission in this case, it may indicate that the virus can persist for much longer in the sperm; the man developed symptoms 199 days - more than 6 months - before having sex with the woman.

It should be noted, however, that another woman who had sex with this man between February and March did not contract the disease.  Furthermore, there was no mention that the virus was actually found in the survivor's sperm.  As a result, it is possible that the virus was not contracted sexually, particularly because the screening process for risk factors relies the investigators asking the right questions, and the respondent recounting his or her experiences accurately.

The CDC currently recommends the use of condoms when having sex and avoidance of coming into contact with the semen of a male survivor to prevent sexual transmission of Ebola.

--Andrew Duong

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