Coronavirus could be spread through sex, experts now fear after they detected the infection in the semen of recovering men.
Researchers in China analysed semen samples from 38 men who tested positive for COVID-19. Some had recovered while others were infectious.
One in six had traces of the coronavirus in their semen – including those who were no longer sick.
Top infectious disease experts admitted the findings were ‘not surprising’ because viruses such as Zika and Ebola are present in semen samples.
The Chinese study did not prove that the virus could be transmitted through sex – it only suggested it was a possible.
But the finding prompted the team to warn that abstaining from sex while infected – and during recovery – would likely be a wise decision.
So far 3.7million cases of COVID-19 – the disease caused by the coronavirus – have been reported globally.
But that figure is only a fraction of the truth because it does not include the millions who have suffered mild disease and recovered at home without being tested.
The study was done at Shangqiu Municipal Hospital, the only designated centre for the treatment of COVID-19 in Shangqiu, Henan province.
Men over the age of 15 who had tested positive for the virus between January 26 and February 16 gave semen samples.
Of the 38 men, 15 (39.5 per cent) were in the acute stage of infection. The rest had recovered.
DOES THE VIRUS ENTER THE MALE REPRODUCTIVE TRACT?
Scientists have found traces of SARS-CoV-2 in semen samples of very small studies. But the implication of this on male reproductive health or spread of the virus has not been robustly studied yet.
Urologists at Suzhou Affiliated Hospital of Nanjing University theorised that the coronavirus could cause testicular damage.
In a paper published on MedRxiv.org – a platform for papers that have not been peer-reviewed by other scientists to flag false claims – the team said their interest in COVID-19 was roused when it came to light that the coronavirus enters cells by binding to ACE2 receptors.
‘Several researches have indicated that some patients have abnormal renal function or even kidney damage in addition to injury in respiratory system, and the related mechanism is unknown,’ the team said.
‘This arouses our interest in whether coronavirus infection will affect the urinary and male reproductive systems.’
The team analysed ‘online datasets’ and found ACE2 expression in different human organs. The results indicate that ACE2 highly expressed in the mans tested, and can be concentrated in several cells which are directly related to the male reproductive abilities, including the germ cells, supporting cells and Leydig cells.
‘Therefore, virus might directly bind to such ACE2 positive cells and damage the kidney and testicular tissue of patients,’ they wrote.
They warned that doctors should pay close attention to possible damage in the testicles of coronavirus patients, especially if they are of reproductive age.
The warning was echoed by another team of scientists at Tongji Hospital, affiliated to Huazhong University of Science and Technology, is one of the hospitals designated by the government to treat coronavirus patients since an outbreak started in Wuhan in January.
Although the coronavirus mainly targets one’s lungs and immune system, the infection could result in ‘impairment of immune homeostasis in the testes’, which could cause orchitis – an inflammation of the testicles.
This in turn could reduce a man’s sperm count and possibly lead to infertility, according to the team who also noted the ACE2 theory.
They added that during the SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003, medics observed serious immune system damage in the testicles of some male patients.
The hospital report was widely shared on social media despite being pulled from provincial government’s website just hours after being uploaded.