Thursday 21 August 2014

Ebola virus in semen is the real deal.... [UPDATED]

The World Health Organization (WHO) Ebola virus disease factsheet notes that ebolaviruses may be transmitted via the semen of a male who is getting over an ebolavirus infection, for a period of 7-weeks (~49-days).[1] 

The European fact sheet for health professionals and a Public Health Agency of Canada Pathogen Safety Data Sheet both note the 7-week figure, the latter also adds a 61-day figure.[2,3] 

The United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) Medical Managements of Biological Casualties Handbook (7th edition) notes a 3-month (~80-days) period, during which one should probably avoid sexual relations so as not to deliver virus directly to a mucosal surface.[4]

Semen is therefore listed as one of the body fluids from which Ebola virus disease may be contracted. 

While convalescent patients seem to be discharged before 7-weeks have elapsed, I presume the men are made very aware of this risk. This was specifically noted in one of the studies below. [8] 

But I find it hard to just accept things. 

As a scientist I'm used to looking for the little bracketed or superscripted numbers or perhaps "(Scientist et al)", at the end of sentences. Then I can check out the information source for myself. So here, I thought I'd try and add those and pt it altogether in one place here - and you can do your own checking out if you feel the need. 

Here are the research papers I've found for EBOV so far (there are also Marburg virus studies) - by all means send me any others I've missed and I'll add them.

  • Bausch and colleagues [5] were able to isolate, in cell culture in the laboratory, infectious Ebola virus (EBOV) from the semen of 1 of 2 samples from a single recovering patient who had EVD. 
    • The sample was collected 40-days after disease onset; at 45-days he was no longer positive for EBOV
    • No acute phase (active infections) samples were tested.
    • 1 of 2 samples were also positive for EBOV RNA by RT-PCR (detecting a portion of the virus's RNA genome)
  • Rodriguez and colleagues [6] could isolate infectious EBOV from seminal fluid 82 days after disease onset from a 27-year old male (also RT-PCR positive then). A sample at 51-days after onset was RT-PCR positive, but did not yield infectious virus.
    • EBOV RNA , but not virus, in 3 other convalescent cases (33, 29 and 25-years of age) at times ranging from 57 to 101-days after disease onset.
  • Rowe and colleagues [7], who examined the same patients, detected EBOV RNA by RT-PCR from 4 convalescent cases (27, 25, 29 and 33-years of age as above) at times ranging from 47 to 91-days after disease onset 
    • No infectious virus could be isolated and no viral antigens were found
  • Emond and colleagues [8] were able to isolate infectious EBOV from seminal fluid collected 39 and 61 days after disease onset
    • No EBOV was isolated 76, 92 or 110-days later
So if you are a man who has been diagnosed with an Ebola virus infection and survived, please, seriously, take extra care to practice safe sex. Use a condom. Or, even safer, just wait.


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