One possibility is that Ebola may hide in specific spots in the body that are somewhat protected from the immune system, such as the eye and the testes, the researchers wrote. These “privileged” areas of the body are less prone to inflammatory attack by the immune system when foreign substances are found. The fact that men who reported vision issues after their recovery were likelier to harbor Ebola RNA seems to bolster this notion, the researchers wrote.
As people age, perhaps their immune system becomes less robust, the researchers suggested. Their weakened immune systems may enable the Ebola virus to hide out in these certain immune-privileged sites, such as the testes.
However, figuring out how to provide new information on how to prevent the sexual transmission of Ebola, without making things worse for Ebola survivors, could prove tricky, the researchers noted.
“For many survivors, the physical manifestations of the disease have been compounded by the stigma encountered with their return to their communities,” the researchers wrote in their paper. “Survivor messaging regarding viral persistence, if demonstrated, must provide information that can be used to protect loved ones but at the same time not risk further ostracizing by society.”