Male survivors of Ebola virus disease (EVD) may still have the virus present in their semen as long as 9 months after the onset of symptoms, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The study – led by Dr. Gibrilla Deen of Connaught Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone – enrolled 100 male survivors of EVD in Sierra Leone, of whom 93 provided a semen specimen at some time after the onset of symptoms, which was analyzed for Ebola virus RNA. Specimens were analyzed via a reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction assay.
Results indicated that 46 of the 93 men (49%) who provided the initial semen sample tested positive for Ebola virus RNA. All 9 (100%) of the men whose specimens were analyzed 2-3 months after the onset of symptoms tested positive. Of the 40 whose specimens were received 4-6 months after symptom onset, 26 (65%) tested positive. Eleven of the 43 (26%) whose specimens were obtained 7-9 months after symptom onset were positive, as well.
“Ebola survivors face an increasing number of recognized health complications,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a statement, adding that “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.”
All participants were aged 18-58 years, with a mean of 30 years. While 63% of subjects had at least 6 years of formal education, 22% had less than that, and 15% had no formal education of any kind. Only 10% of subjects reported a monthly income of moe than $1,000, while 43% reported not knowing their income at all. None of the participants reported a history of HIV, tuberculosis, or diabetes diagnoses.
“Because semen-testing programs are not yet universally available, outreach activities are needed to provide education regarding recommendations and risks to survivor communities and sexual partners of survivors in a way that does not further stigmatize [the] survivors of EVD,” according to the study.
The authors of the study acknowledge that their findings are potentially limited by the size of their sample, as well as the lack of data on the risk of trasmission via sexual intercourse or other sex acts from men with Ebola virus RNA in their semen. Follow-up analysis of the current findings is underway.
Dr. Deen did not report any relevant financial disclosures.