NEW DELHI, India– An Ebola survivor has been quarantined in India after his semen tested positive for the virus, health officials there have announced.
The 26-year-old man, an Indian national, traveled to New Delhi from Liberia on November 10, almost two months after he was hospitalized in the West African nation after showing symptoms of the illness, India’s health ministry said in a statement.
He was released from the Liberian hospital on September 30 with documents declaring him free of clinical signs linked to Ebola, the ministry added.
As a precautionary measure, Indian authorities carried out tests on his body fluids, which confirmed traces of the virus in his semen, the statement said.
“Currently, this person is not having any symptoms of the disease. However, he would be kept under isolation in the special health facility of (the) Delhi Airport Health Organization, till such time his body fluids test negative and he is found medically fit to be discharged,” it said.
In the wake of the first detection of the deadly virus in India, the country’s health minister, J.P. Nadda, held talks with top officials from various departments, the government said.
The minister advised strengthening passenger surveillance at the country’s airports and seaports, the government said. He also ordered expert teams to visit states and report back to him on preparedness to deal with the virus, it added.
India’s health ministry, however, urged calm. “The situation is under control and there is no need for any alarm. However, all precautions are being taken in this regard,” it said in its statement.
According to the ministry and doctors, patients whose blood samples test negative for Ebola after treatment continue to shed the virus in their body fluids, such as urine and semen, for variable periods. A survivor with infected semen can transmit the disease to his sexual partners, they say.
“There is no cure that actually kills the virus,” explained Naresh Trehan, chairman and managing director of Medanta The Medicity hospital near New Delhi. Patients, he said, are treated with supportive care.
Experimental vaccines and treatments for Ebola are under development, but they have not yet been fully tested for safety or effectiveness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Healthcare providers, Trehan emphasized, must adhere to standard safety protocols while attending to Ebola patients and survivors carrying the virus in their body fluids.
India has screened thousands of passengers arriving from the Ebola-hit countries since the outbreak of the disease in West Africa.
“This is like a dress-rehearsal for India, and while we are already in the mode of preparation, this case will help us galvanize into action,” said Hemant Thacker, a consultant physician and cardio-metabolic specialist at Mumbai’s Bhatia Hospital.
“I believe we are theoretically prepared because we have learned the lessons from the West. That, however, doesn’t mean that our medical authorities become complacent,” he cautioned.