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, 6 (1), e008859

Systematic Review of the Literature on Viral Persistence and Sexual Transmission From Recovered Ebola Survivors: Evidence and Recommendations


Systematic Review of the Literature on Viral Persistence and Sexual Transmission From Recovered Ebola Survivors: Evidence and Recommendations

Anna Thorson et al. BMJ Open.

Erratum in

  • Correction
    BMJ Open 6 (1), e008859corr1. PMID 26787246.


Objective: The main aim of this article is to present a comprehensive, systematic review on evidence of sexual transmission from Ebola survivors and persistence of Ebola virus in body fluids of relevance to sexual transmission, and additionally to review condom effectiveness against sexual transmission of Ebola.

Design: We performed a systematic review of viral persistence in body fluids of relevance to sexual transmission of Ebola survivors and evidence of sexual transmission of Ebola, and carried out a targeted review of condom effectiveness.

Results: We identified nine published original articles presenting results on persistence of Ebola virus in relevant body fluids, or reporting suspect sexual transmission from Ebola survivors. We also included unpublished reports from the current 2014/2015 Ebola epidemic in West Africa. We found no articles reporting on condom effectiveness, but have included a targeted review on general condom efficacy and effectiveness.

Conclusions: We conclude that the risk of sexual transmission from people who have recovered from Ebola cannot be ruled out. We found the longest duration of persistent Ebola RNA in a relevant body fluid from a survivor, to be reported from a man in Sierra Leone who had reverse transcriptase PCR (RT-PCR) positive semen 284 days after symptom onset. In line with current WHO recommendations. We recommend that men are offered the possibility to test their semen regularly for presence of Ebola RNA from 3 months post-symptom onset. Safe sex practices including sexual abstinence, or else condom use, are recommended by WHO until semen has tested negative twice, or in absence of testing for at least 6 months post-symptom onset. Based on evidence reviewed, we conclude that male and female latex condoms offer some protection against EBOV compared to no condom use. Survivors should be offered access to care and prevention, in order to provide them with possibilities to mitigate any risks that may occur, and efforts should be linked to destigmatising activities.


Figure 1
Figure 1
Depiction of the duration of measured persistence of Ebola virus and Ebola virus RNA in semen (VI, virus isolation).
Figure 2
Figure 2
Vaginal swab specimen examined for viral shedding (Days, days post-symptom onset; RT-PCR, reverse transcriptase PCR; VI, virus isolation).

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