Maggie Fox, NBC News, October 15, 2015
The Ebola virus can linger in a man’s semen for nine months or longer, researchers reported Wednesday, and in at least one case they’ve confirmed that a survivor infected someone else after seemingly being cleared of the virus.
The researchers don’t think it’s especially common, and they cannot say if the virus remains infectious in semen after months and months.
“We believe it’s rare,” said Dr. Barbara Knust, who helped lead CDC’s Ebola response team.
But it’s a troubling reminder that the epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia could have some very long-term effects.
One report in the New England Journal of Medicine confirms what experts had feared–a 44-year-old woman who died in Liberia last March was infected by her fiancé, who had survived Ebola.
Researchers had suspected this might happen, but this is the first proof. Gustavo Palacios of the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and his colleagues genetically matched the virus that killed the woman to samples taken from her fiancé, who had been declared free of the virus for months.
After that, the World Health Organization warned that survivors should abstain from sex or use condoms for 90 days.
But the second report shows the virus can remain in a man’s semen for months longer than previously believed.
The team from Sierra Leone’s government, WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recruited 93 male Ebola survivors who agreed to be regularly tested after they were cleared of the virus.
The first nine men, tested three months after they first got sick, all still had evidence of the virus in their semen, the team reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Another 65 percent of those tested four to six months later had genetic evidence of Ebola in their semen and 26 percent of those tested seven to nine months later did.
However, the Ebola epidemic that appears to be winding down has affected many, many more people than any previous outbreak. More than 28,000 people were infected and more than 11,000 died.