A new Chinese study discovers Covid-19 in semen of ill and recovering viral cases

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Agatha Farmer

A new study from China published on May 7 in the Jama Network found that traces of Covid-19 have been discovered in semen. Researchers at this time do not know if the virus can be sexually transmitted.

The research identified male patients with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 aged 15 years and older between January 26, 2020, and February 16, 2020, in Shangqiu Municipal Hospital, which is the only designated hospital for the treatment of COVID-19 in Shangqiu, in the east of Henan province in China. Enrolled patients were asked to provide a semen sample for SARS-CoV-2 testing.

A total of 38 patients were enrolled for semen testing. Of these 38 participants 23 participants (60.5%) had achieved clinical recovery and 15 participants (39.5%) were at the acute stage of infection. Results of semen testing found that 6 patients (15.8%) had results positive for SARS-CoV-2, including 4 of 15 patients (26.7%) who were at the acute stage of infection and 2 of 23 patients (8.7%) who were recovering. The paper indicated that this statistics "is particularly noteworthy." There was no significant difference between negative and positive test results for patients by age, urogenital disease history, days since onset, days since hospitalization, or days since clinical recovery.

The paper concluded that "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, especially considering the fact that SARS-CoV-2 was detected in the semen of recovering patients. Abstinence or condom use might be considered as preventive means for these patients."

The study was led by Dr. Weiguo Zhao of the People's Liberation Army General Hospital in Beijing.

CBS News recently interviewed Dr. Ryan Berglund on the topic. Berglund is a urologist with the Cleveland Clinic's Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute.

"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 Berglund.

The Chinese researchers also noted that 27 different viruses have been detected in human semen. Berglund warns that this does not constitute concrete evidence that COVID-19 can be sexually transmitted.

CBS also interview Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore. Adalja 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."

Adalja has doubts about the potential for the virus to be sexually transmitted.

"We know the virus is transmitted efficiently through the respiratory route and we have not seen any documented cases of sexual transmission, therefore this may not necessarily represent proof of sexual transmissibility via the male genital tract," Adalja said.

Dr. Zhao's research paper additionally states that "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. Our study might contribute by providing new information to the current discourse regarding COVID-19 prevention and control."

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