Ebola Virus More Persistent than Previously Known
Months after moving past the peak of the worst outbreak of Ebola in history, this deadly virus is again in the news. Ebola is a particularly frightening disease, because it is both deadly and ruthlessly efficient. Sufferers die so quickly that limited local health systems are unable to perform research before the victims are buried. Healthcare workers who contracted the disease and returned to more developed nations, the increased international focus on this disease, and a growing number of survivors have allowed unprecedented research; uncovering new understanding of the virus and offering cautionary insights.
Research on men in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea has shown the Ebola virus remains in the testes longer than has been previously demonstrated, meaning that the disease can be transmitted via sexual contact. At least one such case has been documented, resulting in the death of the female sex partner. While the viral load appears to diminish over time, there is no indicator of when it has disappeared.
In many ways, this is similar to the lessons learned from HIV. Ebola survivors should refrain from sexual activity or use condoms until their semen has twice tested negative. Hands should be washed after physical contact with semen.
Much remains to be learned about Ebola. While the risk to the general public is minimal, survivors should continue to monitor their health. The public health nurse who was diagnosed with Ebola after returning to Scotland was recently hospitalized in critical condition with meningitis, some nine months after being released from her initial treatment. (She is currently listed in serious, but stable condition.) In the U.S., an Ebola survivor was found to have traces of the virus in his eye, months after doctors had declared him Ebola-free.
The thought of contracting Ebola can be terrifying. More frightening, however, is the idea of possibly carrying a virus and exposing those around you. A saving grace is that the Ebola disease is so severe that you know if you have had it. The relatively small number of people in this population must continue to take precautions for the foreseeable future. The broader population should continue awareness, watching for symptoms for 21 days after visiting an area where the disease exists. And, of course, exercise general hygiene practices (hand washing, cough etiquette and staying home when ill); these healthy habits help all the time.
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