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Study: Ebola Virus Stays in Semen Months After Recovery

FILE - People celebrate as they are released from Ebola quarantine in the village of Massessehbeh on the outskirts of Freetown, Sierra Leone, Aug. 14, 2015.

A new study finds the Ebola virus can persist in the semen of male survivors months after they recover from the deadly disease.

Ninety-three men who had been declared free of the disease participated in the study, which was conducted by the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nathalie Broutet, WHO medical officer and one of the study's lead authors, told VOA that the semen of the men was tested at different stages to see how long the virus persisted.

“We found the presence of Ebola virus in the semen up to nine months," she said. "So, for these men that have positive semen, there is the risk of exposure to the virus for their sexual partners.”

Broutet said the focus of the study was on the persistence of the virus, not the risk of transmission. She said the possible sexual transmission of the virus and the magnitude of the risk would be analyzed in another study.

This study showed that the virus remains considerably longer in semen than previously thought, but that the concentration of the virus declines in the months after recovery from Ebola. It found a very high presence of the virus in the semen three months after recovery, but the concentration drops drastically after six months of survival.

Broutet said it was still not known how long it takes for the virus to disappear. Therefore, she said, WHO recommends that survivors receive support, counseling and follow-up testing. She said that in the first three months after recovery, male survivors should abstain from sex or use condoms.

Broutet said a major study to begin at the end of the month would look at the persistence of Ebola in seven body fluids among 240 male and female survivors. These include tears, sweat, vaginal secretions, semen, rectal swabs, urine and menstrual blood.