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Sperm containing virus raises risk of spread via sex

HEALTH & SCIENCEBy REUTERS AND AP | Sat,May 09 2020 00:00:00 EAT
By REUTERS AND AP | Sat,May 09 2020 00:00:00 EAT

A study based on a small number of patients opens up chance of sexual transmission of Covid-19.

Chinese researchers who tested the sperm of men infected with Covid-19 found a minority had the new coronavirus in their semen, opening up a small chance the disease could be sexually transmitted, scientists have said.

A study by doctors at China’s Shangqiu municipal hospital of 38 men hospitalised with the disease found that six of them (16 per cent), tested positive for Sars-CoV-2 in their semen.

The researchers said while the findings were preliminary, and based on only a small number of infected men, more research is needed to see whether sexual transmission might play a role in the Covid-19 pandemic.

Covid 19 Time Series

 

“Further studies are required with respect to the detailed information about virus shedding, survival time and concentration in semen,” the team wrote in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Prevention

“If it could be proved that Sars-CoV-2 can be transmitted sexually ... (that) might be a critical part of the prevention,” they said, “especially considering the fact that Sars-CoV-2 was detected in the semen of recovering patients.”

Independent experts said the findings were interesting but should be viewed with caution and in the context of other small studies that have not found the new coronavirus in sperm.

A previous small study of 12 Covid-19 patients in China in February and March found that all of them tested negative for Sars-CoV-2 in semen samples.

Allan Pacey, a professor of andrology at Sheffield University in the UK, said the studies should not be seen as conclusive, as there were some technical difficulties in testing semen for viruses. He said the presence of Sars-CoV-2 in sperm did not show whether it is active and capable of causing infection.

“However, we should not be surprised if the virus which causes Covid-19 is found in the semen of some 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 was 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.

“However, the long-term effects of Sars-CoV-2 on male reproduction are not yet known,” she said.

In another study of 34 Chinese men with Covid-19 published last month in the journal, Fertility and Sterility, US and Chinese researchers found no evidence of virus in semen tested between eight days and almost three months after diagnosis.

Dr John Hotaling of the University of Utah, co-author of that report, said the new study involved much sicker men, most with active disease.

Blood, feces and tears

Authorities believe the coronavirus mainly spreads from droplets produced when infected people cough, which are inhaled by people nearby.

Some studies have reported finding the virus in blood, feces and tears or other fluid from Covid-19 patients with inflammation in their eyes.

Evidence suggesting that other infectious viruses including Zika and Ebola may be sexually transmitted has prompted questions about the coronavirus.

Hotaling said it’s an important public health concern but that more research is needed to provide a definitive answer.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine said the new study shouldn’t be cause for alarm.

To be safe, though, “it may be wise to avoid sexual contact with men until they are 14 days without symptoms,” Dr Peter Schlegel, the group’s immediate past president, said in a statement.

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