Ebola Still Creating Problems

The ebola virus under a microscope.

Flickr | Creative Commons

As West Africa works to recover from its recent ebola crisis in which close to 6,500 people died, the deadly virus is still causing problems, meaning that the virus is trickier than experts previously thought.

That ebola can live in the semen of male survivors for months is not new information; health workers encourage men recovering from the virus not to have unprotected sex for three months. But new research suggests that the virus can live in semen for much, much longer. According to a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine, a male ebola survivor in Liberia was released from care in October of last year with no lingering symptoms.

But then a woman with whom the man engaged in unprotected sex five months later died of ebola, 20 days after they had had sex. Genetic analysis confirmed it: the man’s semen showed that he had transmitted the virus to the woman. Another paper suggests that ebola could live in semen for as many as nine months after the first symptoms appeared.

It seems also that ebola doesn’t just live in semen for a long time, but that survivors can actually suffer relapses. Pauline Cafferkey was discharged from a London hospital nine months ago after supposedly having beaten ebola, but now she is back in care and in critical condition with the virus. Pauline, who is Scottish, is the first person in the United Kingdom to have contracted the illness.

Cafferkey, who volunteered to help fight the virus in Sierra Leone, was transferred to Royal Free Hospital in London from a Glasgow hospital seven days ago. Her close contacts are now being carefully monitored, about 58 people.

Another volunteer, American doctor Ian Crozier, was treated for ebola in Georgia earlier this year, and he was discharged from an Atlanta hospital when his blood was shown to be free of the virus. But two months later after he complained of vision problems, doctors found the virus still living in the fluids in his eyes. Ebola survivors are now asked to keep track of eye problems, but because the virus is not found in Crozier’s outer-eye membranes, he is not at risk for spreading the virus.

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