Persistent Ebola virus detected in semen

October 11, 2014Carole No Comments »

The CDC has updated its recommendation regarding steps to prevent Ebola infection via contaminated semen through intercourse. They recommend that male survivors consistently use condoms during sex to avoid the spread of Ebola because persistent virus has been detected in semen for a much longer than expected time period post infection.  Ebola virus was detected in an Ebola survivor’s semen more than 199 days after he had sex with a woman who then became infected with Ebola. There were no other known exposures for the woman except sex with the Ebola survivor. The CDC does not believe that this condom use recommendation will be life-long for Ebola survivors (unlike HIV)  but until more research can establish the longest possible persistence of the virus in semen, protected sex is the official recommendation. NPR covered this story here.

The original blog post is below:

We hear disturbing news about the Ebola outbreak in the media.  Ebola is a virus that is “difficult to spread” in the sense that we can’t just breathe the virus from the air, but actually need to touch someone who is sick and pick up the virus from contact with their bodily fluids (saliva, mucus, vomit, feces, sweat, tears, breast milk, urine, and semen). Surprisingly, the better known measles virus is one of the most contagious viruses around because on average, each measles patient infects 18 other people, compared to the average Ebola patient who infects two people. While meant to be reassuring, this type of statistic gives me little joy because we shake hands (and even hug) relative strangers every day- and have much more intimate physical contact with the people closest to us.

Well-run Andrology and Embryology (IVF) labs already have effective procedures in place to protect both patients and health care workers from viruses that are spread through contact with bodily fluids. The viruses we have long been concerned with include HIV and hepatitis C, among others. Recently, Ebola has been added to the list of viruses that IVF lab technicians should be aware of. Currently, the odds of being hit by lightning are a thousand (million?) times greater than contracting Ebola in the United States, but it does no harm to be informed and may cause great harm to be ignorant.

The CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) have published the following information on their respective websites:

CDC information on Ebola in semen  http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/transmission/)
WHO information on Ebola in semen (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en/) and (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/ebola/06-october-2014/en/)

Perhaps the most troubling piece of information is not that Ebola has been found in semen – that is to be expected since semen is a bodily fluid, but that it has been detected in semen as much as 91 days after the infection has been diagnosed. This surprising observation suggests that perhaps the virus may embed with a round of sperm cells that are in production at the time of the infection– and until they are flushed from the system when mature- the virus persists in this niche. The CDC recommends: Once someone recovers from Ebola, they can no longer spread the virus. However, Ebola virus has been found in semen for up to 3 months. People who recover from Ebola are advised to abstain from sex or use condoms for 3 months.

This underlines the fact that in a lab setting, technicians must develop consistent adherence to universal precautions for their own safety and the safety of their patients to avoid infection with both old and new viruses. Universal precautions includes the consistent use of personal protective equipment (such as gloves) and frequent hand washing.

Everyone should know that there is some risk of exposure to the virus through sex for up to 3 months after an Ebola patient recovers from the life threatening acute infection.

 

 

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