Researchers find traces of coronavirus in semen: What this means for Covid-19 and sexual transmission

Illustration (PHOTO: Getty Images/Gallo Images)
Illustration (PHOTO: Getty Images/Gallo Images)

A recent study conducted by Chinese researchers on a group of 38 men infected with Covid-19, found that six (about 16%) of the infected patients also tested positive for the virus in their semen – which increases the chances of the virus possibly being sexually transmitted, The Guardian reports.

A team of researchers from China’s Shangqiu municipal hospital who were led by Dr Weiguo Zhao, found that of the six men who tested positive for the novel virus in their semen, four of the patients were in the acute stages of the virus while two had already recovered, CNN reports.

“We found that SARS-CoV-2 can be present in the semen of patients with Covid-19, and SARS-CoV-2 may still be detected in the semen of recovering patients,” the researchers noted in their findings which were published on 7 May in the journal JAMA Network Open.

“Even if the virus cannot replicate in the male reproductive system, it may persist, possibly resulting from the privileged immunity of testes,” the team added referring to the inability of the immune system to reach its optimum level to attack viral invaders.

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The results of the findings come as no surprise. Previously, traces of the virus have been found in body fluids and even in stool, according to Dr Ryan Berglund, a urologist at Cleveland Clinic’s Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute, CBS News reports.

“I think that's premature,” Dr Berglund said, referring to the findings.

“You have to look at this as a sign that semen, as along with a number of other body fluids, can contain the virus.”

But the study does raise many questions. For example, the research didn’t examine whether the virus can be sexually transmitted nor did it detail the viral load that was present in the semen, Wall Street Journal reports.

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John Brooks, chief medical officer for the US Centres for Disease and Prevention’s Covid-19 Response team, described the study outcomes as “intriguing results.”

But he added that these findings didn’t mean the semen was infectious.

“When we’re looking everywhere for this virus, we’re finding its footprints in different places in the body – whether that’s a trace of if it’s a bigfoot is very hard to say,” he said.

Dr Stanley Perlman, a professor of microbiology, immunology and paediatrics at the University of Iowa, also warned that just because the semen tested positive for the coronavirus, doesn’t mean the infectious virus was present, NY Times reports.

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“This is an interesting finding, but it must be confirmed that there’s an infectious virus — not just a virus product in the semen,” he explained.

“The semen tests may have detected only fragments of viral RNA (ribonucleic acid),” he added.

In their findings, the researchers noted that while their results were preliminary and based on a small group of infected men, further research was still required to prove whether or not the coronavirus can be sexually transmitted.

“Abstinence or condom use might be considered as preventive means for these patients,” the team added in their findings.

Sources: The Guardian, CNN, JAMA Network Open, Wall Street Journal, NYTimes, CBSNews

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