Coronavirus Found In Men’s Semen; Sexual Transmission Of Virus Remains Unclear, Study Says




Traces of the COVID-19 coronavirus have been found in the semen of some severely infected men, raising the possibility that the virus could be sexually transmitted, Chinese researchers said Thursday.

A team at Shangqiu Municipal Hospital tested 38 male patients treated there at the height of the pandemic in China, in January and February, reports CBS News.

Researchers found evidence of the virus in the semen of six men (16%), the team reported in the journal JAMA Network Open. About a quarter of them were in the acute stage of infection and nearly 9% of them were recovering, the team reported.



“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,” Diangeng Li of Chinese People’s Liberation Army General Hospital in Beijing and colleagues wrote.

“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. Privileged immunity means the immune system cannot fully reach the region to attack viral invaders.

Many viruses can live in the male reproductive tract. Ebola and Zika virus were both found to spread in semen, sometimes months after a male patient had recovered.

Researchers caution that finding evidence of virus does not necessarily mean it’s infectious and it is not yet clear if the coronavirus can spread this way.

“If it could be proved that SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted sexually in future studies, sexual transmission might be a critical part of the prevention of transmission,” the team wrote.

“Abstinence or condom use might be considered as preventive means for these patients. In addition, it is worth noting that there is a need for studies monitoring fetal development. Therefore, to avoid contact with the patient’s saliva and blood may not be enough, since the survival of SARS-CoV-2 in a recovering patient’s semen maintains the likelihood to infect others.”

It’s not surprising that the virus was found in semen samples, since it’s also been found in stool and other body fluids, said Dr. Ryan Berglund, a urologist with the Cleveland Clinic’s Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute. He is also cautioning that the findings do not constitute concrete evidence that COVID-19 can be sexually transmitted.

“I think that’s premature,” Berglund said. “You have to look at this as a sign that semen, as along with a number of other body fluids, can contain the virus.”

The new paper comes on the heels of another study from China that found no traces of coronavirus in 34 men with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19. That study was published in late April in the journal Fertility and Sterility.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, said “the fact that the novel coronavirus’ genetic material is found in the semen of male patients is an important finding that will need follow-up study.”