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New Research: 27 Different Viruses Found in Semen

October 06, 2017

Semen can be home to 27 different viruses, including Zika, Ebola and chicken pox, according to a recent analysis of previous research. Now that we know Americans are using less effective forms of birth control they may be increasing their odds of transferring these viruses to their partners and maybe even their newborns. It’s important to know this information now rel="noopener noreferrer" then worry later.

University of Oxford researchers reviewed 3,818 scientific articles related to viruses and semen published in PubMed, a database of medical literature. The articles surfaced a connection between 27 different viruses and semen.

One interesting finding was that all the viruses weren’t only the commonly rel="noopener noreferrer" known sexually transmitted viruses. These viruses included Ebola, Hepatitis C, Lassa Fever and the mumps, among others. HIV, Zika and herpes also were on the list.

However, researchers noted that for most of the viruses on the list, there isn’t yet sufficient evidence that they can be sexually transmitted through semen. The review only indicated evidence of viral protein or these viruses’ genetic material in semen. To find out if these viruses can be transmitted through semen, researchers would need to isolate each virus and grow it in cells in a lab or do animal testing. Since these tests have not been performed, we don’t yet know whether sexual transmission is possible.

Various infectious diseases, like Epstein-Barr virus, also can be transmitted through saliva or other bodily fluids, so whether or not they can be transmitted through semen may be irrelevant if there are other ways these viruses can enter the body’s immune system.

The researchers say the presence of viruses in semen is probably more widespread than even current research indicates. This may be due to the fact that compared to blood or other pathways into the body, viruses can penetrate semen more easily. However, viruses also can survive in the testes longer, making it more difficult for the immune system to get rid of them, since the body’s immune response is wired to help sperm survive in the testes.

The review’s findings indicate additional research needs to be done to more clearly understand which of these viruses can be transmitted sexually, and how long and at what concentrations these viruses remain viable in semen and are most likely to spread from person-to-person.

Understanding these connections could have important implications for public health, especially for viruses that lead to epidemics, higher rates of disease and higher mortality rates due to disease or that have an impact on fertility and a couple’s ability to have a healthy, complication-free pregnancy.

We’ve already seen evidence that the Zika virus can be transmitted through semen, and that traces of the virus can be found in semen at least two months later. rel="noopener noreferrer" This discovery led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to issue new guidelines that urged men and women who had been infected with the virus to avoid unprotected sex for six months and to refrain from sex or use condoms with a pregnant partner for the rest of the pregnancy.

Zika is just one example of the potential impact of a virus that can be transmitted through semen. So, if one of the other 26 viruses on the list also poses a similar risk, understanding the mechanisms that enable viruses to survive in semen could help us curb the impact and potential spread of other infectious diseases.

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