The presence of monkeypox virus in semen is “neither rare nor random”, according to a study by Italian researchers who were the first to detect it in semen during a preliminary study.
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According to Francesco Vaia, director of the Spallanzani hospital in Rome, an institution specializing in infectious diseases, the results of a preliminary study released on June 2 show that the DNA of the virus has been detected in three out of four men suffering from this disease. sickness.
“This discovery shows that the presence of the virus in sperm is neither rare nor random,” he told AFP about this study, which has not yet been officially published.
Researchers have identified the first cases of monkeypox in Italy in two men who recently returned from the Canary Islands.
A spike in monkeypox cases has been detected since early May, far from central and west African countries where the disease has long been endemic. More than 3,400 confirmed cases and one death have been reported this year to the World Health Organization (WHO) by around 50 countries where the disease is not endemic.
The vast majority of cases have been detected in young men who have had sex with other men, mostly in urban areas, according to the WHO, which investigates cases of semen testing positive for the virus.
“We do not call (this virus) a sexually transmitted infection” (STI), Meg Doherty, director of WHO’s global programs on HIV, hepatitis and STIs, said last week.
The Italian team is now trying to determine how long the virus remains present in semen after the onset of symptoms.
In one patient, DNA from the virus was detected three weeks after the onset of symptoms, even after the lesions had disappeared, a phenomenon that Vaia said has been seen in viral infections like Zika in the past.
This could indicate that the risk of transmission could be reduced by using condoms in the weeks following recovery.
The researchers also study vaginal secretions to detect the possible presence of the virus.
In their first study, they had observed through the culture of the virus in the laboratory that it was “present in the semen as a contagious virus and able to reproduce”, according to Mr Vaia.
An important question remains unanswered: can the smallpox vaccine protect against monkeypox? “To study this, we will look at people vaccinated 40 years ago, before human smallpox was eradicated.”