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FAQ: The Deadly Ebola Virus

Ebola: Frequently Asked Questions continued...

The virus can persist in semen at least 9 months after symptoms appear, according to a study conducted by the WHO, the CDC and the Sierra Leone government. The study was called preliminary. "Until more is known, the more than 8,000 male Ebola survivors across the three countries (in West Africa) need appropriate education, counseling, and regular testing so they know whether Ebola virus persists in their semen" as well as measures they should take to prevent exposing sexual partners, the CDC says. "Until a male Ebola survivor's semen has twice tested negative, he should abstain from all types of sex or use condoms when engaging in sexual activity." 

Q. How does the virus spread?

A. Ebola isn’t as contagious as more common viruses, such as colds, influenza, or measles, Adalja says. It spreads to people by close contact with skin and bodily fluids from infected animals, such as fruit bats and monkeys. Then it spreads from person to person the same way.

“The key message is to minimize bodily fluid exposures,” Adalja says.

Q. What precautions should people take if they’re concerned they might come in contact with someone infected with Ebola?

A. “Ebola is very hard to catch,” Adalja emphasizes. Infected people are contagious only after symptoms appear, by which time close contacts, such as health care workers and family members, would use “universal precautions.” That's an infection control approach in which all blood and certain body fluids are treated as if they are infectious for diseases that can be borne in them, Adalja says.

Even though the virus can be transmitted by kissing or sex, people with Ebola symptoms are so sick that they’re not typically taking part in those behaviors, he says.

Q. Is there a cure or a vaccine to protect against it?

A. No, but scientists are working on both. Testing of several Ebola vaccines is underway in various locations.

There is no specific treatment for Ebola. The only treatments available are supportive kinds, such as IV fluids and medications to level out blood pressure, a breathing machine, and transfusions, Adalja says.

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