Ebola virus is a rare and deadly virus that starts with common flu-like symptoms, such as fever, muscle and joint pain, and headache, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the virus progresses, however, people suffer from extreme diarrhea and vomiting, and in the late stages of the disease, people’s blood vessels may become leaky, causing bleeding from the rectum, nose or mouth. People infected with the virus can transmit it through bodily fluids — such as blood, vomit, diarrhea or semen — and are infectious only once they start showing symptoms of the disease. Between 2014 and 2016, there were nearly 30,000 cases of Ebola reported in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, according to the World Health Organization. Many of the people who survive the initial deadly phase of the disease may still face lingering problems, such as headache, vision problems, fatigue, joint pain and hearing loss, a 2015 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found.
The finding that Ebola can linger in semen even after men recover from the infection is not a surprise to researchers. Studies of men in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea after the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak found that anywhere from 28 percent to 100 percent of men harbored the RNA, or genetic material, from the Ebola virus in their semen up to three months after infection. Another study found that a minority of men who contracted the virus tested positive for Ebola in their semen seven to nine months after recovering from the infection. In 2015, scientists reported that a man who had recovered from the disease six months earlier had transmitted Ebola to a sexual partner.
The World Health Organization currently recommends that people who recover from the virus be tested for any lingering presence of Ebola RNA three months after recovering, and then again until the test is negative on two consecutive monthly tests. If men have not been tested, they should abstain from sex for 12 months, or use condoms every time they have sex, according to WHO guidelines.