Coronavirus May Lurk in Semen, Researchers Report

It was not clear whether the scientists had found infectious virus or inert fragments, so sexual transmission of the virus still seems very unlikely.
Scientists across the world are trying to piece together a perplexing puzzle: how exactly coronavirus affects the body, and how it spreads from person to person.

In recent months, they have learned that the virus can live on some surfaces for three days and that it can stay suspended in tiny aerosolized droplets for about 30 minutes. The virus has been detected in saliva, urine and feces.

Now researchers in China have found that the coronavirus, or bits of it, may linger in semen. But the paper, published Thursday in JAMA Network Open, an open-access medical journal, does not prove that the virus can be sexually transmitted.

The doctors tested semen from 38 patients at Shangqiu Municipal Hospital in Henan Province in central China. All the subjects, who ranged in age from 15 to 59, had previously tested positive for the coronavirus.

Researchers detected genetic material from the coronavirus in the semen of six patients, around 16 percent.  Four patients with positive semen samples “were at the acute stage of infection,” wrote Dr. Weiguo Zhao of the Eighth Medical Center of Chinese People’s Liberation Army General Hospital in Beijing and Dr. Shixi Zhang of the Shangqiu Municipal Hospital in Henan.

Two were recovering, “which is particularly noteworthy,” they added. It had been 16 days since one of the men had first shown symptoms, according to a chart featured in the study.

Dr. Zhao and Dr. Zhang could not immediately be reached for comment.

From the early days of the outbreak, public health experts have been saying that though the coronavirus could be transmitted through kissing, they did not believe it could be sexually transmitted.

The new finding does not  contradict this. If semen tests positive for the coronavirus, that does not mean that infectious virus is present, said Dr. Stanley Perlman, a professor of microbiology, immunology and pediatrics at the University of Iowa, who was not involved in the study.

“This is an interesting finding, but it must be confirmed that there is infectious virus — not just a virus product in the semen,” he said. The semen tests may have detected only fragments of viral RNA, he added.

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