Study: Ebola Virus Persists in Body Fluids
Preliminary study results indicate that some men who survive the Ebola virus still produce semen samples that test positive for the disease for at least nine months after the onset of symptoms, according to a report published October 14 in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). The report contains the first results of a long-term study into the persistence of Ebola virus in body fluids. Researchers examined 93 men over 18 years of age who enrolled in the study between two and 10 months after becoming infected with the Ebola virus. All of the men who were tested in the first three months following the onset of illness were found to have the virus in their semen. Of those who were tested four to six months after onset, 65 percent had the virus; and of those tested between seven to nine months after onset, 26 percent had the virus. The results for the one participant whose specimen was obtained 10 months after onset of symptoms were indeterminate. It’s unclear why some participants in the study cleared the Ebola virus genetic material from semen earlier than others, WHO said in its press release. CDC is testing the samples further to determine whether the Ebola virus is live and potentially infectious. “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,” said Bruce Aylward, WHO Director-General’s Special Representative on the Ebola Response. “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.”
Another report in the NEJM, also published online on Oct. 14, presented evidence that a male survivor had transmitted Ebola virus to a sexual partner in Liberia approximately 6 months after developing symptoms. WHO recommends that male Ebola survivors should abstain from all types of sex or use condoms when engaging in sexual activity until semen has twice tested negative for fragments of the Ebola virus. WHO’s interim advice on the sexual transmission of the Ebola virus disease is available on the organization’s website. The health of Ebola survivors has come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks. Five days prior to the WHO study’s publication, news organizations reported that British nurse Pauline Cafferkey, who had contracted Ebola in December 2014 while volunteering in Sierra Leone, was readmitted to the hospital suffering from a serious, meningitis-like illness. Doctors subsequently discovered Ebola virus in Cafferkey’s spinal fluid. Her condition was described as critical, but as of early November, Cafferkey was expected to recover fully. The NEMJ articles “Ebola RNA Persistence in Semen of Ebola Virus Disease Survivors-Preliminary Report” and “Molecular Evidence of Sexual Transmission of Ebola Virus” are available on the journal's website. Reports about Ebola survivor Pauline Cafferkey are available from The New York Times and The Guardian.