MONROVIA (Reuters) - Liberia called upon Ebola survivors on Sunday to extend a period of sexual abstinence or protected sex beyond an already advised three months following their recovery, amid fears the country’s latest case may have resulted from sexual transmission.
The West African nation suffered a setback in its efforts to end a year-long outbreak of the disease earlier this month when it recorded its first new case of Ebola in several weeks.
The patient, a 44-year-old woman, died on Friday. More than 10,300 people have succumbed to the disease across Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, the three countries hardest hit by the worst Ebola epidemic on record.
Deputy Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah, who heads Liberia’s Ebola response, said there was evidence to suggest the woman may have contracted the disease through sexual contact.
Research has shown traces of Ebola in semen of some survivors for at least 82 days after the onset of symptoms, meaning they could carry the disease long after they have recovered.
There is no conclusive scientific proof that these traces are infectious. But as a precaution, the World Health Organization (WHO) advises Ebola survivors to abstain from sex during a 90-day period following recovery or, failing that, to practise safe sex.
Nyenswah said survivors should follow the WHO guidance for at least three months and suggested they even go a step further until the modes of transmission are better understood.
“Ebola survivors should consider correct and consistent use of condoms for all sexual acts beyond three months until more information is available,” he said.
Liberian health officials were monitoring 211 individuals known to have come into contact with the deceased woman but Nyenswah said that none had so far presented symptoms of the disease.
Liberia has largely succeeded in getting its Ebola outbreak under control and was on its way to completing the 42 days without a new case necessary to declaring the country free of the disease when it recorded the most recent infection.
Its neighbors, however, have faced more difficulties in containing their own outbreaks.
Sierra Leone, the worst affected of the three countries, wrapped up a three-day national lockdown aimed at accelerating the end of its Ebola epidemic on Sunday evening.
“Thank God it’s all over. It felt like prison. Let’s see how it ends Ebola,” Kadiatu Massaquoi, a resident of Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown, told Reuters. “I am looking forward to normal life again.”
Guinea’s President Alpha Conde announced on Saturday new emergency measures enabling authorities to restrict movements in western Guinea, where Ebola transmission continues a year after the epidemic was declared.
Additional reporting by Umaru Fofana in Freetown; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Gareth Jones