September 22, 2023

A professor of medical virology at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Sunday Omilabu, has said that survivors of Lassa fever can still transmit the virus to others through body fluids 12 months after recovery.

Omilabu said the virus could lurk in the semen, breast milk, saliva and blood after treatment and recovery.

Speaking in an interview with our correspondent, the virologist said, “The virus still lurks in the body fluids of people that have been exposed, treated and overcome it for even more than 12 months and people around them can contract the virus in their body fluids.

“For example, a husband that has just recovered can easily transmit the virus in his semen to his wife when they are having intercourse. They can have the virus in their urine, so efforts must be made to follow up with those that are just recovering and they need to be educated.

“The virus can be in the breast milk even after a mother has been treated. For such people, breastfeeding should be discouraged, and the husbands too should be careful. All body fluids carry the virus, even blood and saliva. It is known to be in the body fluids for more than six months.”

A study published in the Pan Africa Medical Journal in 2020 also showed that the detection of LASV in seminal fluid and breast milk of discharged post-ribavirin-treated cases suggests its persistence in these fluids of recovering Nigerians.

The study titled ‘Monitoring of Lassa virus infection in suspected and confirmed cases in Ondo State, Nigeria,’ and led by a medical/molecular virologist, Dr Olumuyiwa Salu, at the Centre for Human and Zoonotic Virology, Central Research Laboratory, College of Medicine, UNILAG, noted that safe sex practices, including sexual abstinence and use of male or female latex condom as well as abstinence from breastfeeding by nursing mothers after discharge, should be encouraged among survivors.

It added, “The implications of viral persistence in such immune sanctuaries are now being recognised as potential sources of new outbreaks through sexual transmission for a number of other emerging infectious viruses, including Lassa, Ebola and Zika viruses.”

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