An Indian man who survived Ebola was quarantined when his blood tested negative but his semen tested positive
An Indian man who survived Ebola in Liberia was quarantined at an airport in Delhi when his semen tested positive for the disease.
What’s confusing is that man had multiple blood samples tested for Ebola and they all came back negative. Based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, that means he’s free of Ebola. Still, the issue raises some questions that perhaps you’re too squeamish to ask. So we asked the CDC for you.
The answers to these questions were provided by CDC spokesperson Salina Smith.
1. So, Ebola can live in semen?
Yes, it can. The CDC says semen can test positive after clinical clearance—a negative blood test for Ebola—for up to three months. The agency recommends those who have survived Ebola abstain from sex, including oral sex, for at least three months. If abstinence cannot be followed, condoms should be worn.
2. Why does Ebola survive in semen longer than blood?
Semen and blood are different types of body fluids, and scientifically, the testes are known as immunologically “privileged” sites. Basically it’s easier for the virus to hide and avoid being attacked by the immune system in the reproductive system.
3. Why is someone deemed “cured” of the virus if it’s negative in their blood, but positive in their semen?
Theoretically it’s possible that Ebola could be transmitted via contact with Ebola-positive semen, but there is no evidence to date that this has ever happened. It may be that the virus is a more efficient transmitter in blood. What we know for a fact is that exposure to blood that’s positive for Ebola can infect other people.
4. Does the CDC explicitly recommend abstinence to every patient who survives Ebola?
The CDC’s guidance in the field is this: If the patient is a man, he should be informed that his semen can still be infectious for three months and that he must avoid or have protected sexual relations during this period. The patient and his partner are well counseled on this, and must have it clearly explained to them. A CDC medical team is supposed to provide them with enough condoms for that period. The CDC recommends this warning also be included on the patient’s discharge papers.
5. Does the CDC ever test patients’ semen?
The CDC does test the semen of patients who are medically evacuated to the United States. The agency also asks if patients in the United States would like to have their semen tested periodically so that the CDC can gain a better idea of how long the virus lasts.
6. Was it unusual that the Indian patient’s semen was tested?