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Is COVID-19 sexual transmission possible?
In the time of the corona crisis, we try to prevent COVID-19 from spreading as effectively as possible. It is important to know the different transmission routes in order to protect yourself and other people from an illness. The question naturally arises whether COVID-19 can also be transmitted sexually. An international study has now concluded that the spread of COVID-19 by sperm is unlikely.
The University of Utah's latest investigation found that COVID-19 apparently cannot be transmitted by sperm. The results of the study were published in the English-language journal "Fertility & Sterility".
No evidence of COVID-19 in sperm or testicles
In the international investigation of Chinese men who had COVID-19, no evidence was found in the sperm or testicle for the virus causing COVID-19. This makes COVID-19 very unlikely to spread through sperm.
Sexual transmission cannot be completely excluded
However, the study was not comprehensive enough to completely rule out the possibility of sexual transmission of the disease, the researchers report. However, the fact that the virus that causes COVID-19 does not appear in the testes or semen in this small, preliminary study could be an important finding, reports study author Dr. James M. Hotaling from the University of Utah.
If a disease like COVID-19 were sexually transmitted, it would have a significant impact on disease prevention and could have serious consequences for a man's long-term reproductive health, the expert adds.
Seed samples were analyzed
In their study, the researchers took semen samples from 34 Chinese men for an average of one month after they were diagnosed with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19. In the subsequent laboratory tests, SARS-CoV-2 was not detected in any of the samples. But just because the virus was not present in the sperm, it cannot necessarily be ruled out that it had not penetrated the testicles, where the sperm cells form, the researchers report.
Long-term damage to sperm?
If the virus is present in the testicle but not in the sperm, it cannot be transmitted sexually, explains study author Dr. Jingtao Guo from the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah. But if it's in the testicles, it can cause long-term damage to semen and sperm production, adds Dr. Guo added.
Expression of a pair of genes examined closely
To clarify this question, the research group analyzed a data set that was generated from a so-called single cell mRNA atlas by healthy young organ donors. With this atlas you can examine the mRNA, the genetic material that is used for the production of proteins, in every single testicular cell. In this case, the researchers examined the expression of a gene pair that is associated with SARS-CoV-2.
Which receptors have been examined?
These two genes, angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) and transmembrane serine protease 2 (TMPRSS2), act as receptors that allow SARS-CoV2 to enter the cells and multiply. For the virus to access cells effectively, both receptors must be present in the same cell.
Probably not in human testicular cells
When the scientists examined the data set, they found that genes that code for these two proteins were only found in four of the 6,500 cells in the testis. This suggests that SARS-CoV-2 is unlikely to penetrate human testicular cells, explains Dr. Guo.
Were there any restrictions on the exam?
Despite these results, the research group acknowledges that their study has several important limitations, including a small sample size and the fact that none of the participants were seriously affected by COVID-19.
Severe illness could lead to different results
A man who is seriously ill with COVID-19 may have a higher viral load, which could increase the likelihood of a viral load in the sperm. We just don't have an answer to that at the moment. But that no virus detection was possible in patients with mild to moderate forms of the disease study is reassuring, explains Dr. Hotaling.
Intimate contact can increase the risk of spreading the disease
However, the study author expressly warns that intimate contact with infected people is associated with the risk of COVID-19 transmission (through breathing, coughing, sneezing, kissing). In addition, some infected people are asymptomatic and can appear healthy, even if they pass the virus on to other people. (as)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
- Feng Pan, Xingyuan Xiao, Jingtao Guo, Yarong Song, Honggang Li et al .: No evidence of SARS-CoV-2 in semen of males recovering from COVID-19, in Fertility & Sterility (published April 2020), Fertility & Sterility