The recent Ebola outbreak was a worldwide medical fiasco that brought to light how utterly susceptible people can be to extremely persistent and resilient diseases. Although the outbreak is no more, new findings show that the Ebola virus is even more resistant than scientists initially thought.
The WHO has recently issued a warning that the disappearance of Ebola symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean that the virus is gone forever. Far from it, the virus can persist within the semen of survivors for at least nine months.
Ebola is Far from Gone
The discovery sheds light on how persistent the virus actually is, as well as the possible methods of transmission. For a long time, Ebola was thought to be solely passed through direct contact with fluids and excrements from infected people. Bushmeat is also widely regarded as the source of the virus, and may be where patient zero contracted the virus in the first place.
For people declared Ebola-free, the virus may still be lurking within the body. Pauline Cafferky, who was discharged from a London Hospital nine months ago, was seemingly cured of the disease, but is now critically ill again. Earlier this year, American doctor Ian Crozier was similarly declared free from Ebola after blood samples tested negative, but found that the virus was still lurking in his eye.
The current study that shows Ebola has the potential to be sexually transmitted is equally alarming, and the WHO is already taking steps with Sierra Leonne’s local government to warn those ‘cured’ from Ebola about the possibility of the virus still lurking within their body.
An Atmosphere of Uncertainty
There is now an air of uncertainty in terms of whether the survivors of the recent outbreak may still be unknowingly carrying the virus within their body. The concern is very real, as the virus itself may be slowly developing an immunity to treatments and medicines.
Margaret Chan, the director general of the WHO, is equally uncertain about whether the traces of Ebola virus may simply be a remnant or could potentially cause another outbreak. She said, “Does it mean they are still infectious or are they just fragments? We don’t have the definitive evidence yet.”
She added, “The degree of uncertainty is worrying. That’s why we need to take precautionary measures, so we advise survivors to take protection through contraception.”
The WHO is currently working with local governments affected by the Ebola Outbreak to spread the word that the virus may still persist within cured patients. Professor David Heymann, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says, “Condoms should be used as a precautionary measure until better understanding is gained through long-term study.”