Men who recover from Ebola should abstain from sex for three months to minimize the risk of passing the virus on in their semen, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.
Ebola, a disease that has infected and killing thousands in a vast epidemic in West Africa, normally spreads via bodily fluids such as tears, blood, saliva and feces. Although sexual transmission of Ebola virus disease has never been documented, the virus has been detected in the survivors' semen.
Vaginal fluid is also believed to carry the violence, but the WHO's suggestions on abstinence was directed at male survivors.
Of four Ebola patients who had recovered and continued to be observed by researchers, three had semen that tested positive for the virus. In one study, Ebola was reportedly found in the patient’s semen for up to 82 days after the onset of symptoms.
"Men who have recovered from Ebola virus disease should be aware that seminal fluid may be infectious for as long as three months after onset of symptoms," the WHO said in a Thursday release on its website.
"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."
The WHO said that research has not yet shown whether the semen with the live virus is infectious. The four men cited in the WHO report had not transmitted the disease to their partners.
Almost 16,000 people are known to have been infected with Ebola in the current outbreak and 5,689 of them have died. The virus causes hemorrhagic fever, and there is as yet no cure or vaccine.
Almost all the cases and all but 15 deaths have been in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia — the three hardest-hit countries, which reported 600 new cases in the past week, the WHO said in its latest update.
Still, there have been some small signs that the crisis will take a turn for the better. A new test designed to rapidly diagnose Ebola virus infection is to be tried out at a treatment center for the disease in Guinea, international health charity The Wellcome Trust said on Friday.
Researchers developing the 15-minute Ebola test say it is six times faster than similar ones currently in use and, if it proves successful, could help medical staff identify and isolate confirmed Ebola patients faster and start treating them sooner.
And in another potential sign of a turning point in the global epidemic, the WHO on Nov. 21 declared that the Democratic Republic of Congo had eradicated the virus. And despite the death of a ninth Ebola doctor in Sierra Leone Wednesday, the nation’s information minister said this week that infections may have reached their peak.
Alpha Kanu, Sierra Leone's minister of information, said in an online press conference Wednesday that with the imminent completion of two British-built treatment centers, the worst could be over for the country.
"We believe that now that those treatment centers are ready, the transmission of new cases will start reducing," Kanu said. "I don't think we can get any higher than we are now — we are at the plateau of the curve and very soon we will have a downward trend, once we have somewhere to take people.
But the virus shows no signs of letting up in Guinea, where officials and aid providers have blamed poorly coordinated efforts to combat the disease for a persistent rise in infections. French President Francois Hollande traveled to the former French colony on Friday to see where his administration could bolster Guinean efforts to combat the epidemic.
Al Jazeera and wire services