Ebola survivors have to wait for at least three months before having sex again unless they use condoms as one the preventive ways to curb spread of the disease, the Ministry of Health has advised.
“Before returning home, Ebola patients will have their blood tested in the laboratory to ensure the virus is no longer in their body. However, people who have recovered from the illness should not have sex for at least three months unless they use condoms,” the Ministry of Health’s advisory reads in part.
The executive director of Uganda Virus Research Institute, Prof Pontiano Kaleebu, said although Ebola is not considered a sexually transmitted infection, in some studies, experts have found the virus in sperms after recovery.
Dr Ataro Ayella, a clinical epidemiologist, who has managed previous Ebola outbreaks in Bundibugyo in 2007, Liberia in 2014, and DR Congo in 2019, told Monitor in a separate interview yesterday that Ebola can be transmitted sexually and the virus can stay in the semen for up to three months. This means transmission can occur even if the survivor has no symptoms of the disease.
“Besides having got cured of the disease, a relapse or reinfection could occur… The reinfection depends on the immunity of the person and other co-existing diseases,” Dr Ayella added.
Scientists say studies done in Liberia indicate that a woman was infected with Ebola following sexual intercourse with a male Ebola survivor.
Dr Charles Olaro, the Ministry of Health’s director for curative services, said the Ebola virus hides in testes after recovery.
Asked when the three-month count down starts, Dr Olaro said “from the time they (survivors) get discharged”.
Dr Ayella explained that the virus can hide in other places such as backbone fluid and eyes.
“The nature of the virus gives it ability to survive for long in reserves in the body (brain, spinal fluid, semen, placenta and eyes) even when the patient is declared cured…The virus can be stored alive in the semen for long since it is conducive environment for its survival, unlike other body fluids,” Dr Ayella explained.
Several people who spoke to Monitor urged the government to conduct more sensitisation.
Ms Grace Aine, businesswoman in Kampala, said: “The Ministry needs to sensitise the population. I am sure not very many people know about this despite the number of Ebola outbreaks this country has had. I am sure people will abide if they know the risk involved, after all they are saying protected sex is okay.”
Mr Alex Ariho, a resident of Kampala, said: “This message needs to be taken to people who need it the most, the sex workers. Emphasise the need for protected sex since they are saying with protection, it’s okay.”