Ebola virus persists in body fluids of survivors for months – UN health agency

15 October 2015

The Ebola virus can persist in the eye, semen, the placenta, breast milk and central nervous system of survivors of the disease for as long as 9 and a half months, according to a new study supported by the World Health Organization (WHO).<

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A preliminary study on Ebola virus persistence in the semen of male survivors in Sierra Leone has found that some men still produce semen that tests positive on real time for nine months or longer.

“One participant was still positive 9.5 months after his illness began,” WHO said in a press release.

WHO said these results are from "baseline" samples provided by 93 men participating in the study being jointly conducted by the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation, WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The latest findings come as WHO reported there were no confirmed cases of Ebola in West Africa in the week to 11 October, making it the second consecutive week with zero confirmed cases. But WHO also notes that, a patient who was reported as a case in the United Kingdom on 29 December 2014, and who later recovered, was hospitalized last week after developing late Ebola-related complications.

“All of the men who were tested in the first three months after their illness began were positive (9/9; 100 per cent). More than half of men (26/40; 65 per cent) who were tested between four to six months after their illness began were positive, while one quarter (11/46; 24 per cent) of those tested between seven to nine months after their illness began also tested positive,” the study showed.

“It is still not known how long the virus can persist in semen, but this study will yield more information about how long it takes for men to clear Ebola virus from semen,” WHO said.

WHO said it currently recommends that male Ebola survivors should be offered semen testing at 3 months after onset of disease, and then, for those who test positive, every month thereafter until their semen tests negative for virus twice with an interval of one week between tests.

“Until such time as their semen has twice tested negative for Ebola, survivors should abstain from sex or use condoms, practice good hand and personal hygiene by immediately and thoroughly washing with soap and water after any physical contact with semen, including after masturbation,” the health agency said.

The study will be widened to examine viral persistence in other body fluids, in both women and men, post-Ebola.

“A growing volume of data from careful clinical observation and testing of people who have recovered from acute Ebola virus disease indicates that the Ebola virus can persist at various sites in the body for many months in some people,” WHO said. “Such sites include the inside of the eye, semen, amniotic fluid, the placenta, breast milk and the central nervous system.”

 

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