Chinese researchers who tested the sperm of men infected with COVID-19 found that a small proportion of them had a new corona virus in their semen, opening the likelihood of the disease being sexually transmitted, scientists said Thursday.
A study by doctors at 38 hospitals in Shangqiu city in China who were hospitalized with this disease found that six of them, or 16 percent, tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in their semen.
The researchers said that while the findings were only temporary and were only based on a small number of infected men, further research was needed to see whether sexual transmission might play a role in the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Further research is needed regarding detailed information about virus release, survival time, and concentration in semen,” the team wrote in a study published on JAMA Network Open.
“If it can be proven that SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted sexually … (it) may be an important part of prevention,” they said, “especially given the fact that SARS-CoV-2 was detected in semen of recovered patients.”
Independent experts say the findings are interesting but must be viewed with caution and in the context of other small studies that have not yet found new coronaviruses in sperm.
An earlier small study of 12 COVID-19 patients in China in February and March found that all were tested negative for SARS-CoV-2 in semen samples.
Allan Pacey, a professor of andrology at the University of Sheffield in England, said the study should not be seen conclusively because there are some technical difficulties in testing semen for the virus. He said the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in sperm did not indicate whether it was active and capable of causing infection.
“However, we should not be surprised if the virus that causes COVID-19 is found in the semen of some men because this has been demonstrated with many other viruses such as Ebola and Zika,” he said.
Sheena Lewis, a professor of reproductive medicine at Queen’s University Belfast, stressed that this was a “very small study” and said her findings were consistent with other small studies that showed low or no SARS-CoV-2 in semen sample tests.
“However, the long-term effects of SARS-CoV-2 on male reproduction are unknown,” he said.
Updated Date: May 11, 2020 16:32:20 IST