An epidemiologist with the World Health Organisation Regional Office for Africa, Dr. Patrick Otim breastfeeding women who have recovered from the Ebola Virus Disease can transmit it to their babies through breastmilk.
Dr. Otim also said a person who is still actively sick from the disease can transmit it through sweat, and other body fluids.
The epidemiologist said this following the declaration of an end to the Ebola virus outbreak in Uganda on January 11, after it killed 55 people and infected at least 142 in less than four months.
Ebola virus disease is a severe, often fatal illness affecting humans and other primates. The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and then spreads in the human population through direct contact with the blood, secretions, organs, or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials contaminated with these fluids.
Otim, who spoke in a short video posted on the WHO African Region Twitter handle @WHOAFRO said “All women who have been infected and particularly those who are breastfeeding during the active infection, they are able to transmit the virus to their babies. So, we always recommend that when the mother is infected, they’re separated from their babies and they stop breastfeeding and their babies are offerred alternative milk.
“Now once the mother has recovered and she is still producing breast milk, there is a risk that she can be able to transmit the virus to the baby through the breast milk but for a very short duration of time.”
He recommended that women who have been discharged from the treatment centre have their breast milk tested before resuming breastfeeding.
“So, that duration within one month of discharge from the treatment centre they should be able to clear the virus from the breastmilk. And so the follow-up has to happen according to the guidelines in each country and then the mother can be able to resume breastfeeding once she has tested negative for the breast milk,” he said.
Adding, the expert added that the disease cannot be transmitted through saliva or sweat once the virus is cleared from the blood.
“For saliva and sweat, once a person has recovered and they have been discharged, at the time of discharge you’re done two negative tests on your blood. So, once the virus has been cleared from the blood, it cannot find its way into sweat or saliva. So, a person who has recovered and has been discharged cannot be able to transmit the virus through sweat or blood.
“However, a person who is still actively sick, that is the person who can transmit through sweat and other body fluids. But for a survivor, it’s not possible to transmit through the saliva or the sweat,” Otim said.