The Zika virus has been located in the sperm of an Italian man six months after his first diagnosis; a significant recurrence as this is twice as long as in previous reported cases.
This suggests that Zika can survive for much longer periods than has generally been believed.
Doctors at the Spallanzani Institute for Infectious Diseases in Rome said it pointed to the possibility that the virus was reproducing itself in the male genital tract.
This is obviously of concern, suggesting that the viruses could spread more readily than was thought to be possible.
The Zika outbreak was originally declared a global public health emergency by the World Health Organisation in February.
There has been considerable controversy over the Rio Olympic Games in Brazil, with numerous competitors pulling out of the competition owing to fears over the Zika virus.
It now seems that sexual transmission of Zika could be far more feasible and widespread than was expected.
Current guidelines recommend infected patients should use condoms or abstain from sex for at least six months after the onset of symptoms.
But these may now need to be revised after this isolated cases, even if no other similar individuals are located.
Christian Lindmeier from the World Health Organisation indicated that the authoritative organisation is assessing its guidelines for Zika.
“The Zika outbreak is a constantly evolving situation and every new piece of evidence is looked into and evaluated as to whether or not guidelines will need to be revised.”
The patient, who was in his early 40s, first presented symptoms after returning to Italy after a two-week visit to Haiti in January.
Follow-up testing showed the Zika virus was still present in his urine, saliva and sperm, 91 days after the onset of symptoms.
This remained positive after 181 days, nearly doubling the previous longest registered symptoms in the span of an individual of 93 days, located in a younger Frenchman.
“The results of this study confirm that the virus could replicate specifically in the male genital tract and may persist in semen,” an Italian team working on Zika indicated.
Since this outbreak occurred, it has been discovered that Zika infections in adults can result in Guillain–Barré syndrome.
Prior to this outbreak, Zika was considered a mild infection, as most Zika virus infections are asymptomatic, making it difficult to determine precise estimates of the number of cases.
It seems that Britain’s first national sperm bank has not been a roaring success, after it opened just under a year ago.
Figures released this week have indicated that just nine men are currently registered as donors at the site in Birmingham.
With such a poor response, the chief executive of the bank, Laura Witjens, has stated that efforts must be made to recruit more men to the fold.
Witjens has even suggested that appealing to men’s sense of virility may reap reward and attract more willing donors.
Such an approach has been successfully adopted in Denmark, where a campaign prominently based around a superhero image has proven to be popular.
In relation to the plan, Witjens stated that “if I advertised saying ‘Men, prove your worth, show me how good you are’, then I would get hundreds of donors.
“That’s the way the Danish do it. They proudly say, this is the Viking invasion, exports from Denmark are beer, Lego and sperm. It’s a source of pride.”
Although there are numerous possible reasons for the small numbers of donors, a recent change in UK law is thought to have had a serious impact on men’s willingness to participate.
According to the legislation passed in 2005, sperm donors can no longer claim anonymity. Instead, children conceived using donor eggs or sperm will be able to trace their biological parents.
Although children created via sperm donations would never have the legal right to make a financial claim against a donor, it is still believed that this prospect is negatively impacting upon the number of men willing to donate.
But Witjens was keen to emphasise that this shouldn’t be a barrier to donation. “One of the problems we have is this myth that you become the father either legally or socially.”
“Children may want to know who their biological father is, but it doesn’t mean to say that at the age of 18 they knock on your door and call you daddy. It’s about curiosity.”
With the intention of addressing the shortage of donors in the UK, the national sperm bank received an initial government grant of £77,000 when it was inaugurated. But the bank will be funded independently of the government going forward.
Despite the disappointing number of donors that the new centre has attracted, Witjens was also keen to emphasise that even the amount of sperm donated would enable 90 families to receive donations at home rather than travelling abroad.
An additional issue for the sperm bank is the number of men who fail the stringent conditions for sperm freezing. Around 80-90% of respondents are unable to meet these conditions, and are thus not suitable donors.
Increasing the amount of money donors receive has also been suggested as a way of attracting more men. Donors are paid £35 per clinic visit, but Witjens was sceptical about the value of increasing this figure.
“We might get more donors if we paid £50 or £100 per donation, but money corrupts. If you feel you can make £200 a week for four months, you might hide things about your health,” she claimed.