“New research must be done to help determine whether SARS-CoV-2 is viable in semen or whether it damages sperm," said Melissa J. Perry, ScD, MHS. "Determining if COVID-19 is sexually transmitted has important implications for secondary infections and the advice we give to the public about prevention.”
Opinion Article Calls for Urgent Research on COVID Virus and Sperm
WASHINGTON, DC (June 2, 2020) – A newly published opinion article urges researchers to find answers to critical questions about SARS-CoV-2 and its impact on sperm. Can the virus that causes COVID-19 be found in semen? Can SARS-CoV-2 be transmitted sexually?
“There are still many unanswered health questions about the transmissibility of this new coronavirus,” said Melissa J. Perry, ScD, MHS, professor and Chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH). “New research must be done to help determine whether SARS-CoV-2 is viable in semen or whether it damages sperm. Determining if COVID-19 is sexually transmitted has important implications for secondary infections and the advice we give to the public about prevention.”
Perry and her colleagues published the article in the journal Andrology.
The few studies on SARS-CoV-2 and semen thus far have shown conflicting results. Two small studies did not detect the virus in semen taken from men who had recovered from COVID-19. Yet a study of 38 male patients with COVID-19 found that four out of 15 in the acute phase of infection and two out of 23 in the recovery stage had detectable virus in semen samples.
Additional research will be needed to confirm the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in semen, including information about if and when it can be transmitted to sexual partners. Such questions are important because men who have the virus but no symptoms may be able to pass on SARS-CoV-2 and thus may unknowingly contribute to the ongoing spread of COVID-19. Indeed, sexual transmission of this sort could be a latent source of infection, potentially leading to a second wave of COVID infections after the first wave subsides, Perry said.
Among the many health consequences of the COVID pandemic is the potential that the virus can damage sperm, Perry said. Large community-based testing is needed to better understand the impact of the coronavirus on sperm and male fertility, she added.
Perry’s lab is working on the hypothesis that SARS-CoV-2 may affect sperm quality but has yet to publish any results.
“It is currently unknown whether SARS-CoV-2 is viable in semen or whether COVID-19 damages sperm,” was published online on May 29 in Andrology.