SARS-CoV-2 in Semen of COVID-19 Patients?

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MAY 07, 2020 — SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, may be present in the semen of patients with COVID-19, both those recovering and those with acute disease, according to a small study published online today in JAMA Network Open.

However, several experts caution that the researchers only tested for viral components and that the findings do not demonstrate infectivity. “I am not aware of any reports of infection transmitting sexually, so the risk here, even if the study is verified at a larger scale, is very limited,” said Ian Jones, PhD, professor of virology, University of Reading, United Kingdom.

Other experts note that the published article is short on information about methodology and context. “I’m not saying they are wrong, but they are shy on details,” said Maureen Ferran, PhD, associate professor of biology, Rochester Institute of Technology, New York. She notes that although the authors say they used reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) to detect viral RNA from nasal swabs to confirm infection, they don’t say what they did to detect virus in semen, leaving readers to assume they also used RT-PCR to test those samples.

A spokesperson from the JAMA press office has clarified that the authors did use RT-PCR to detect viral RNA in semen; the authors did not respond to multiple email requests for comment.

“It is peer-reviewed, but everyone is trying to get everything out so fast that some things are suffering,” Ferran continued. She noted that she was surprised the authors did not mention other studies that have shown conflicting results.

In the newly reported study, SARS-CoV-2 was detected in semen from 6 (15.8%) of 38 patients tested. All of the patients had confirmed COVID-19.

The finding may have implications for the prevention and control of COVID-19, note the study authors, led by Diangeng Li, PhD, from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army General Hospital, Beijing, China.

“Owing to the imperfect blood-testes/deferens/epididymis barriers, SARS-CoV-2 might be seeded to the male reproductive tract, especially in the presence of systemic local inflammation,” the authors write.

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