Chinese researchers who tested the sperm of men infected with COVID-19 found that a small group of them had the new coronavirus in their semen. In a study undertaken in Shangqiu Municipal Hospital, 6 (16%) of 38 men in hospital with Covid-19, tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in semen. We asked experts to comment on the findings.
Dr Tee Kok Keng, Head of the Pathogen Genetics & Evolution Laboratory in University of Malaya (UM), said:
“The study reports the cross-sectional observation of SARS-CoV-2 in the semen of infected male patients in the acute (27%) and recovering (9%) phase.
“Although the genitourinary is not the preferred site of SARS-CoV-2 replication, it’s presence could be the result of the imperfect blood-testes/deferents/epididymis barriers that allow the seeding of the virus in the male reproductive system, as noted by the authors.
“The duration and amount of viral shedding in the semen however are not investigated.
“Although the virus RNA has been detected, the study does not indicate the viability of the virus that may be affected by the presence of proteolytic enzymes in the semen. In addition, because the virus is not known to replicate well in the human reproductive system, the risk of infection upon sexual transmission may be limited and warrants further investigations.”
Dr Tommy Tong, Immunologist and Senior Lecturer at the Department of Biological Science, Sunway University, said:
“It is too early to comment base on one study. In addition, the sample size is too small to be significant at a population level.
“Other clinical data are missing from this study, such as their immune profile, hormone profile as well as their lifestyle information (whether they smoke, taking medication, nutrition intakes etc).
“One thing I do agree with this paper is the follow-up studies (virus shedding, survival time and concentration in the semen), plus recruiting more infected patients. In my opinion, it is too early to speculate on this area.”
‘Clinical Characteristics and Results of Semen Tests Among Men With Coronavirus Disease 2019’ by Diangeng Li et al was published in JAMA Network Open on 7 May 2020.
Bionotes of experts
Dr Tee Kok Keng is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine and the head of the Pathogen Genetics & Evolution Laboratory in University of Malaya (UM). He is an adjunct Associate Professor at the School of Healthcare and Medical Sciences, Sunway University. His research interest focuses on the genetic and evolutionary characterization of blood-borne and respiratory viruses (including human coronaviruses). He has published over 90 peer-reviewed articles (h-index 22). He is currently the Editor for various international journals including PLoS One, Frontiers in Microbiology, and Virology Journal. He is the recipient of the 2017 UM Outstanding Young Researcher.
Dr Tommy Tong graduated from Monash University, Australia with PhD in Immunology. He was working on vaccine development against human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) for his PhD dissertation, before joining Professor James Binley at San Diego for Biomedical Research (SDBRI) in USA to continue his passion in HIV research for 4 years. He is now a lecturer at the Department of Biological Science, Sunway University, and has started his own laboratory to work on HIV vaccine for Malaysians.
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