ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta)– The Ebola virus may live in the semen of male survivors at least nine months after patients start showing symptoms, according to new research.
A preliminary study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is revealing the first results of a long-term study on the persistence of the Ebola virus in the body.
“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.”
Part of the study focused on the Ebola virus in semen given past research indicating the persistence of the virus in bodily fluids. Officials say better understanding of Ebola’s presence in the body will help survivors recover and move forward with healthy 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, ” Bruce Aylward, WHO Director-General’s Special Representative on the Ebola Response, told the CDC.
Ninety three men, all over the age of 18 and from Sierra Leone, submitted semen samples so researchers could test to detect the presence of the Ebola virus. Participants enrolled in the study between two and 10 months following the beginning of their illness. Men who were tested within the first three months of the illness were 100 percent positive for Ebola’s presence in semen. For men who were tested between four and six months of the start of their illness, 65 percent tested positive. One quarter (26 percent) of men who were tested between seven and nine months tested positive.
Researchers are unsure why some patients cleared the Ebola virus from semen earlier than others. The CDC is further researching the findings and the possibility of the virus being live and infectious.
“Ebola survivors face an increasing number of recognized health complications,” CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. said. “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.”
Officials are now calling for appropriate education, counseling, and testing for the more than 8,000 male Ebola survivors across three countries in Africa. Health officials advise that Ebola survivors should abstain from all types of sex or use condoms until the semen test come back negative twice.