The New York Times has your weekend lullaby, reporting on the efforts of global health officials to determine “how often and how long” the Ebola virus lives in semen. “For now,” reports the Times, “they are warning Ebola survivors to practice protected sex indefinitely.”
What would you even guess is the right answer to this? I don’t know much about semen, let alone epidemiology, let alone semen-based epidemiology. Even knowing that Ebola is a hideously powerful disease, I would have guessed, like—a month. And I’d have guessed wrong:
One of the new cases, being examined by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Liberian officials, involves Ruth Tugbah, a 44-year-old food seller with no known risk factors who developed Ebola in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, and died. Before her illness, the country had detected no new infections for three weeks.
Attention focused on Ms. Tugbah’s boyfriend, an Ebola survivor. Laboratory workers detected Ebola genetic material in a semen sample he provided 175 days after he developed symptoms. That was 74 days longer than ever found in a survivor before.
That is really something. Even more something is this story of how quickly this inherently difficult investigation has veered into the territory of human rights abuse:
A recent case investigation highlighted the likely challenges. After a woman who was nine months pregnant and had no known risk factors died of Ebola late last month in Freetown, officials tried to establish a link to her husband, an Ebola survivor, by collecting a semen sample for the C.D.C. to analyze. An American doctor working for the W.H.O., MarkAlain Déry, said he had led the case investigation at the man’s home compound.
The husband, Ibrahim Koroma, 28, told Dr. Déry that he had been impotent since recovering from Ebola, which he contracted last November, and that he had not had sex with his wife after that, both men recalled in interviews. But Dr. Déry said he did not believe him, adding that he thought Mr. Koroma was afraid he would be implicated in his wife’s death.
The doctor came back with a government letter promising Mr. Koroma protection, as well as with a UNAIDS counselor from Sierra Leone. She talked to the husband for two hours, and then he “agreed to try to produce the sample.” And then:
When he was unable to, he claimed, two other men he also thought were doctors separately tried to manually stimulate him with soap while pornographic videos played on a laptop. The female worker also undressed him and removed some of her clothing when they were alone, he said. Those efforts were unsuccessful, and embarrassing, Mr. Koroma said.
Yes, sounds that way. Read more about this, if you dare, at the Times.
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