Ebola Virus Fragments Can Persist In Semen Up To Nine Months

New studies have shown that the Ebola virus can remain in some men’s semen for at least nine months after they were initially infected, a longer period than was originally thought, according to a report published  in the New England Journal of Medicine.

These results are the first of a long-term study that has been jointly conducted by the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation, Sierra Leone Ministry of Defense, the World Health Organization, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons - Ebola virus particles.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons – Ebola virus particles.

“Sierra Leone is committed to getting to zero cases and to taking care of our survivors, and part of that effort includes understanding how survivors may be affected after their initial recovery,” said Amara Jambai, M.D., M.Sc., Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation.

“Survivors are to be commended for contributing to the studies that help us understand how long the virus may persist in semen, he added.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the first phase of this study focused on testing for Ebola virus in semen because past research has shown its persistence in that body fluid.

The organization noted that a better understanding of viral persistence in semen is important for supporting survivors to recover and to move forward with their lives.

“These results come at a critically important time, reminding us that while Ebola case numbers continue to plummet, Ebola survivors and their families continue to struggle with the effects of the disease. This study provides further evidence that survivors need continued, substantial support for the next 6 to 12 months to meet these challenges and to ensure their partners are not exposed to potential virus,” said Bruce Aylward, WHO Director-General’s Special Representative on the Ebola Response.

The report stated that ninety-three men over the age of 18 from Freetown, Sierra Leone, provided a semen sample that was tested to detect the presence of Ebola virus genetic material. The men were enrolled in the study for a period between two and 10 months after their illness began. For men who were tested in the first three months after their illness began, all were positive (9/9; 100 percent). More than half of the men (26/40; 65 percent) who were tested between four to six months after their illness began were positive, while one quarter (11/43; 26 percent) of those tested between seven to nine months after their illness began also tested positive.

Yusuf Kabba, National President of the Sierra Leone Association of Ebola Survivors, in commenting on the findings said, “EVD survivors who volunteered for this study are doing something good for themselves and their families and are continuing to contribute to the fight against Ebola and our knowledge about this disease.”

Researchers are still not clear why some participants in the study had cleared the fragments of Ebola virus from semen earlier than others and further tests is being conducted by the  U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to determine if the virus is live and potentially infectious.

“Ebola survivors face an increasing number of recognized health complications,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “This study provides important new information about the persistence of Ebola virus in semen and helps us make recommendations to survivors and their loved ones to help them stay healthy.”

WHO has advised that more than 8,000 male Ebola survivors across the three countries need appropriate education, counseling, and regular testing, so they know whether Ebola virus persists in their semen; and the measures they should take to prevent potential exposure of their partners to the virus.

The organization further advised that 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. Hands should be washed after any physical contact with semen. For more information: Interim advice on the sexual transmission of the Ebola virus disease

Davy Desmond, Readers Bureau, Fellow

Editing by Jesus Chan

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