Chinese researchers who tested sperm of men infected with COVID-19 found that a minority of them had the new coronavirus in their semen, opening up a small chance the disease could be transmitted sexually, scientists said on Thursday.
A study by doctors at China’s Shangqiu Municipal Hospital of 38 men hospitalised with the disease found that six of them, or 16%, tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in their semen.
The researchers said that while the findings were preliminary and based on only a small number of infected men, more research is needed to see if sexual transmission might play a role in the spreading COVID-19 pandemic.
“Further studies are required with respect to the detailed information approximately virus shedding, survival time and concentration in semen,” the team wrote in a study published in JAMA Network Open.
“Whether it could be proved that SARS-CoV-2 may also be transmitted sexually … (that) might be a critical a part of the prevention,” they said, “particularly considering the truth that SARS-CoV-2 used to be detected in the semen of recovering patients.”
Independent experts said the findings were interesting but will have to be viewed with caution and in the context of other small studies that have not found the new coronavirus in sperm.
A preceding small study of 12 COVID-19 patients in China in February and March found that every one of them tested negative for SARS-CoV-2 in semen samples.
Allan Pacey, a professor of andrology at Britain’s Sheffield University, said the studies will have to not be seen as conclusive, since there were some technical difficulties in testing semen for viruses. He said the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in sperm did not show if it is active and capable of causing infection.
“Then again, we will have to not be surprised whether the virus which causes COVID-19 is found in the semen of a few men, since this has been shown 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 used to be a “very small study” and said its findings were in keeping with other small studies showing low or no SARS-CoV-2 in tests of semen samples.
“Then again, the long-term effects of SARS-CoV-2 on male reproduction aren’t yet known,” she said.
(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed. )
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