Ohio State researchers may have identified new STI

Researchers at Columbus-based Ohio State University have discovered that hepatitis E can be sexually transmitted and may also be connected to male infertility, according to the study, which was published May 24 in PLOS Pathogens.

The study was conducted with pigs, in which hepatitis E is endemic. Throughout the study, researchers looked at how hepatitis E affected the reproductive system. The virus was present in the semen of the pigs, but researchers found that hepatitis E was still infectious even if isolated from sperm, which indicates its potential for sexual transmission. 

They found the presence of hepatitis E on the head of the sperm. The pigs also showed fecal viral shedding and had presence of hepatitis E in other tissues, too. But because of the virus' presence in semen, researchers suspect it could also contribute to higher infertility rates in men and also mortality rates related to pregnancy in women.

"We don’t know if the hepatitis E virus can actually complete a replication cycle in the sperm head, so we’re thinking sperm is more of a carrier than a susceptible cell," senior study author Scott Kenney, PhD, associate professor of veterinary preventive medicine at Ohio State, said in a news release. 

Dr. Kenney and his colleagues noted that additional research must be conducted to evaluate both findings. 

"In between 20% and 50% of documented male infertility cases, they don’t really know what’s causing it," Dr. Kenney said in the release. "So we’re pushing for more screening for hepatitis E virus as a potential cause for those cases."

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