Zika virus (ZIKV) is a mosquito-borne flavivirus that causes congenital defects. Sexual transmission of ZIKV was confirmed in a recent epidemic; however, mechanisms behind ZIKV infection and persistence in the male reproductive tract are unknown. Previously, we found that ∼33% of men with symptomatic ZIKV infections shed ZIKV RNA in semen, and some men shed ZIKV RNA for >3 months. Here, we evaluated the semen of 49 ZIKV-infected men to identify immune factors correlating with long-term ZIKV shedding in semen and ZIKV-infected cell types in semen. We found prolonged ZIKV RNA shedding in semen was associated with male reproductive tract inflammation, indicated by higher leukocyte counts and inflammatory cytokine concentrations in semen of long-term versus short-term shedders. Additionally, we found ZIKV RNA in seminal leukocytes and epithelial cells. This study of human semen from ZIKV-infected men provides critical insights into impacts of ZIKV on male reproductive tract health.
Keywords: Zika virus; flow cytometry; inflammation; leukocytospermia; male reproductive tract; sexual transmission.
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