The monkeypox virus is transmitted through close contact with an infected person, who can shed the virus through their distinctive skin lesions or large respiratory droplets. Many of the confirmed cases of monkeypox in the current epidemic involve sexual partners who have been in such close contact.
However, we do know that sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Chlamydia and Syphilis are caused by pathogens that are transmitted from person to person, particularly in semen, vaginal fluids or other bodily fluids.
In a report published on June 2, researchers at the Spallanzani Institute, a Rome-based hospital and research center for infectious diseases, found for the first time the presence of the monkeypox virus in the semen of four patients in Italy.
They have since identified six of the seven patients at the facility whose semen contained the virus’ genetic material. In particular, a lab-tested sample from a single patient suggested that the virus found in his semen was able to infect and replicate another person.
This data, which will be submitted for publication, is not enough to prove that the biological properties of the virus have changed so that its transmission route has evolved, said Reuters Francesco Vaia, director general of the institute.
“However … having an infectious virus in the seed is a factor that tippes the balance heavily in favor of the hypothesis that sexual transmission is one of the modes of transmission of this virus,” he said.
Mr Vaia said the World Health Organization had been briefed on the latest findings. The UN agency was not immediately available for comment.
This data comes as more than 1,300 cases of this viral disease have been reported from around thirty countries, mostly in Europe, since early May. Most cases have been reported in men who have had sex with men.
The outbreak has raised concerns because the virus is rare outside of Africa, where it is endemic, and most cases are not linked to travel to the continent.
Scientists are trying to understand the causes of the current epidemic, its origins and whether anything has changed in the virus.
In a separate report published online on June 6 at https://assets.researchsquare.com/files/rs-1725831/v1/05f6e057-2c45-4be5-b6e1-238183ca7bac.pdf?c=1654543629 and another To be peer-reviewed, German scientists have also detected viral DNA in the semen of two patients in the country.
Detection of viral DNA does not necessarily imply the presence of an infectious virus, said Carlos Maluquer de Motes, who leads a research group studying the biology of smallpox viruses at the University of Surrey.
An analysis by British researchers has found viral DNA from a number of different viruses, including Zika virus, has been found in semen, but it’s not clear whether the presence of genetic material increases the risk of sexual transmission.
Overall, it’s still unclear whether monkeypox is contagious through semen, added Enrico Bucci, a biologist at Temple University in Philadelphia.
“We suspect it and it is very likely that it is. But we lack formal proof that will be available with other experiments in the lab.”