Ebola: UN health agency advises male survivors to abstain from sex for 3 months

Health workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) walk in single file to a gate leading out of the green (safe) zone, at a newly built Ebola treatment unit (ETU) in Monrovia, Liberia. Photo: UNICEF/Christine Nesbitt

28 November 2014 – The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today warned that it is possible for the Ebola virus to be present in semen for 3 months after recovery, as the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said it plans to have 2,700 teams operating throughout villages in the remote forest areas of Guinea to educate villagers and monitor the epidemic at the community level.

UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac announced those plans at the Geneva press briefing by telephone from the village of Meliandou, in the forest area of southeastern Guinea, where epidemiologists believed that the Ebola outbreak began in December 2013.

“Today, the forest region is still the epicentre of Ebola in Guinea”, Mr. Boulierac said.

The UNICEF spokesman noted that community mobilization is particularly complicated in the forest area because the resistance had been made worse by strong tensions between communities.

In order to strengthen community mobilization, teams from UNICEF along with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the organization PLAN GUINEA were currently implementing a network of “Community Watch Committees,” Mr. Boulierac said.

“Each village had such a committee consisting of five residents, with the aim of educating villagers and monitoring the epidemic at the community level,” he was quoted as saying. “To date 660 Community Watch Committees had been established in the forest area, and 2,700 committees should be operational throughout Guinea by the end of the year.”

Mr. Boulierac also said children had been impacted by the virus indirectly, such as by disruption to routine vaccinations.

“Parents had refused to take their children to health centres because of fears of Ebola,” according to the UNICEF spokesman. “Before the Ebola emergency, less than 40 per cent of Guinean children enjoyed full vaccination coverage. Since March 2014, the number of children covered by routine vaccinations had decreased by half.”

WHO, meanwhile, said in a briefing note that “semen may be infectious with the Ebola virus for as long as 3 months after onset of symptoms.”

“The Ebola virus is shed in bodily fluids such as blood, vomit, faeces, saliva, urine, tears, and vaginal and seminal fluids,” WHO said. “There is evidence that seminal fluids of convalescing men can shed the Ebola virus for at least 82 days 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,” according to the health agency.

WHO, however, said it does not recommend isolation of male convalescent patients whose blood has been tested negative for Ebola.

Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the World Food Programme (WFP), told journalists that WFP had distributed 21, 000 metric tons of food to 1.6 million people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since the end of August 2014 to date.

WFP and the Mali Red Cross were partnering to deliver food to 336 people currently under observation, known as contact cases, in Bamako, the Malian capital, said WFP spokeswoman said.

Ms. Byrs also said WFP had pre-positioned enough contingency stocks in Bamako to feed 10,000 people over a three-month period in case they were required to respond to the Ebola emergency.

WHO Spokeswoman Fadela Chaib in Geneva announced that a WHO press conference would take place on Monday, 1 December by Dr. Bruce Aylward, to give an update on the Ebola crisis in West Africa.

Ms. Chaib also said the total number of cases reported in Sierra Leone since the outbreak began would soon eclipse the number reported from Liberia.

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