The Ebola epidemic in West Africa was waning in March 2015, when a new patient highlighted the danger that virus lingering in the semen of men who had recovered from the illness could continue to be transmitted months after the crisis had been declared over.
The case of the patient, whose only exposure had been through sex with a man discharged from an Ebola treatment facility more than five months earlier, indicated that local capacities to detect the virus among the thousands of boys and men who had survived would have to be greatly improved, expanded and standardized. But across countries where the onset of the crisis had exposed massive gaps in systems to transport and test patient samples, testing procedures as well as methods of interpreting results continued to vary widely, while the numbers of skilled health workers remain far short of need.
A report published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases details how GeneXpert technology, which has increasingly facilitated diagnoses of tuberculosis in resource-limited settings over the last half decade, may also provide a “gold standard” for identifying Ebola in semen. The report, Assessment and Optimization of the GeneXpert Diagnostic Platform for Detection of Ebola Virus RNA in Seminal Fluid, by James Pettitt of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and others, describes the technology as both more reliable and more user-friendly than other tests used. Approved by the World Health Organization during the summer of 2015 to test blood samples during the ongoing outbreak, the technology already was known to be easier, and safer, requiring less handling of samples, and with software that eliminates the need to interpret results. In addition, the authors note, the technology, distributed across Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia for testing blood and semen for Ebola, will make possible the adoption of a single testing method, easing continued surveillance of the virus.