Liberia is urging Ebola survivors to temporarily stop having sex, a move prompted by a new case that may have resulted from sexual transmission.
The latest victim, a 44-year-old woman, died Friday. Health officials were monitoring 211 individuals known to have come in contact with her, but none had presented symptoms of the disease, Deputy Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah, who heads Liberia's Ebola response, told journalists.
"New information indicates that sexual transmission may have occurred, but remains unproven," he said. "Additional tests are being undertaken to investigate this possibility."
The case threatens to undermine the country's efforts to end a year-long outbreak.
Research has shown traces of Ebola in semen of some survivors for at least 82 days after the onset of symptoms. There is no conclusive scientific proof these traces are infectious. But anecdotal evidence in the latest case, and several others in West Africa, along with and confirmed transmission of Marburg, another viral hemorrhagic fever, have led experts to warn of the potential risk of sexually transmitted Ebola.
As a precaution, the World Health Organization advises Ebola survivors to abstain from sex during a 90-day period following recovery. At the very least, they should practice safe sex.
Nyenswah reiterated the WHO's advice and suggested survivors go a step further until the pathways 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.
More than 10,300 people have succumbed to Ebola across Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, the three countries hardest hit by the worst Ebola epidemic on record.
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.
—The Associated Press