Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) in early March. Since then scientists and doctors around the world have proposed multiple theories concerning the mode of transmission of the virus. Despite multiple reports claiming SARS-COV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) to be an air-borne infection, the main mode of transmission of the virus remains to be respiratory droplets.
Recently, a study published in the journal JAMA Network Open has led doctors to wonder whether the virus can be transmitted sexually. The study was led by Dr. Weiguo Zhao of the People’s Liberation Army General Hospital in Beijing.
38 male participants in the Shangqui Municipal Hospital were asked for a semen sample to test for the presence of the virus. During the time of the study, 23 of these participants had clinically recovered while 15 were in the acute stage of infection. 6 patients’ (15.8%) semen samples were found to be positive for SARS-COV-2. Of these 4 were in the acute stage of infection while 2 were in the recovery phase.
This may be as a result of the privileged immunity of the testes. This means the immune system is unable to fully reach the region to attack the foreign invaders. Researchers have found 27 viruses that can live in the male reproductive tract. However, the presence of the virus in semen does not prove sexual transmissibility.
The study is not only limited by a small sample size but also a lack of evidence proving the viability of the virus detected in the semen. Although the study was successful in detecting traces of genetic material of the virus, it cannot be established whether the virus is able to retain its virulence and can be sexually transmitted.
However, if proven, future prevention strategies will need to focus on educating the public on practicing safe sex methods or abstinence to prevent the spread of the virus.
The current study comes after research published in April in the journal Fertility and Sterility, found no evidence of the virus in the semen of patients recovering from COVID-19, one month after their diagnosis.
Further studies are required to gather more information about the virulence of the virus, the concentration of virus in semen and, proof of sexual transmission.
Li D, Jin M, Bao P, Zhao W, Zhang S. Clinical Characteristics and Results of Semen Tests Among Men With Coronavirus Disease 2019. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(5):e208292. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.8292
Pan F, Xiao X, Guo J, Song Y, Li H, Patel DP, Spivak AM, Alukal J,P, Zhang X, Xiong C, Li PS, Hotaling JM, No evidence of SARS-CoV-2 in semen of males recovering from COVID-19, Fertility and Sterility (2020), doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2020.04.024.