Male participants enrolled in a longitudinal cohort study of Ebola survivors in Monrovia, Liberia, consented to donating semen. Of the 149 men who provided samples, 13 tested positive for Ebola virus RNA. Of these 13 men, 11 had positive results even two years after the onset of Ebola infection.
“Our finding of long term persistence and intermittent detection of viral RNA in semen suggests we need to change how we think about Ebola as it is no longer only an acute illness, but also one with potential long-term effects,” said William A. Fischer II, M.D., an assistant professor in the UNC Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine and the study’s co-author. “It is becoming clear that in some survivors, evidence of the virus can linger in the male genital tract for long periods of time with important potential implications for transmission.”
Fischer notes that while there has been documented sexual transmission of Ebola earlier after acute infection, it is not known whether the presence of RNA serves as a correlate for infectious virus and if transmission this far out is possible.