A 26-year-old Indian man who recovered from Ebola in Liberia has been placed in isolation at the New Delhi airport after traces of the virus were found in his semen, India's Health Ministry said Tuesday.
The ministry said three blood samples from the man tested negative for the disease, which means he is considered recovered according to standards set by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC advises Ebola survivors to avoid sex for three months or use condoms because the virus can continue to be found in semen for seven weeks after recovery from the disease. Sexual transmission of Ebola has not been definitively established, though multiple studies have shown that the virus can persist in semen for longer than in blood or other body fluids.
The ministry said the move to isolate the man was taken "as a matter of abundant caution" and he would continue to be held under isolation at a special health facility at the airport until his body fluids test negative.
"The person concerned is a treated and cured case of Ebola virus disease," it said in a statement. "All necessary precautions are being taken at the isolation facility. This would rule out even the remote possibility of spread of this disease by the sexual route."
When the man arrived at the New Delhi airport on Nov. 10, he carried documents from Liberia confirming he had successfully undergone Ebola treatment and had been declared free of any symptoms, the Health Ministry said. He was placed in quarantine as a precautionary measure as authorities tested his blood over the next several days.
Although his blood tests were clear, authorities decided to test his semen before releasing him from quarantine. Those tests showed traces of the virus.
There have been no Ebola cases reported in India or throughout Asia, but there are fears that an outbreak could spread quickly in a region where billions live in poverty and public health systems are often very weak.
Early symptoms of Ebola include fever, headache, body aches, cough, stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea, and patients aren't contagious until those begin. The virus requires close contact with body fluids to spread so health care workers and family members caring for loved ones are most at risk.
Ebola has killed more than 5,000 people in the west African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.