Yes, Ebola can be sexually transmitted

No, you should not be worried about contracting the virus this way

Published August 6, 2014 2:31PM (EDT)


As the Ebola outbreak in West Africa continues to spread, so too does public panic. Yes, there are several reasons to fear the virus (and plenty of reasons not to): It's horrific, deadly and difficult to contain. But that doesn't mean it's spreading easily. Ebola is transmitted through contact with body fluids, such as blood, vomit, feces, sweat, saliva or tears -- or semen. That's right: Ebola can be sexually transmitted.

But, as Vanderbilt University infectious disease specialist William Schaffner explained to Live Science, the likelihood of contracting Ebola via sexual intercourse is extraordinarily slim:

Unlike people with the flu or HIV, those who are infected with Ebola aren't contagious until they start showing symptoms. By that point, having sex would be the last thing on a patient's mind, Schaffner said. ...

The virus lurks in low numbers in the body during the first phases of infection. As a result, Ebola virus isn't present in bodily fluids until people feel sick -- usually too sick to be intimate. But there have been too few cases of the disease for researchers to pinpoint the exact onset of contagiousness ...

In one case, a lab worker who contracted Ebola still carried traces of the virus in his semen for approximately two months after recovering from the illness. Some studies suggest that the disease could remain in semen for up to 12 weeks after recovery, as happens with similar viruses, and that it might be possible to transmit Ebola sexually even after the worst of it is over for a patient.

Still, it's incredibly unlikely that this could become a primary mode of transmission in the U.S. or anywhere, and not only because the virus isn't some crazy contagion-like disease that's going to kill us all as quickly as possible. It's really just an issue of mechanics.

"[Ebola] can be sexually transmitted," Richard Preston, Ebola expert and author of "The Hot Zone," said in a recent Reddit AMA. "That is probably not the main mode of transmission, given the fact that if you have Ebola you probably aren't in a loving mood ..."

By Jenny Kutner

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