The virus that causes COVID-19 can be found in semen, Chinese researchers say in a small study that doesn’t address whether it is sexually transmissible.
Doctors detected the coronavirus in the semen of six of 38 hospitalized men who confirmed the infection by examinations. Four were still very ill and two were in recovery.
The report from the Shangqiu Municipal Hospital in China was released Thursday in the JAMA Network Open.
There was no long-term follow-up, so it is unknown how long the virus remains in semen or whether men can infect their partners if they have sex.
The result contrasts with a study of 34 Chinese men with COVID-19 released last month in the publication Fertility and Sterility. American and Chinese researchers did not find the virus in semen in tests conducted between eight days and almost three months after diagnosis.
Dr. John Hotaling of the University of Utah, co-author of that text, said the new study included much sicker men, most with active disease.
Authorities believe the main route of spread for the coronavirus is droplets released when someone infected coughs and are inhaled by people around them.
According to some studies, the virus has been found in the blood, feces, tears, and other fluids of COVID-19 patients who had inflamed eyes.
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Evidence that suggests that other infectious diseases, including Zika and Ebola, could be transmitted through the sexual route, have raised questions about the possibility that the same could occur with the coronavirus.
Hotaling said this is a major public health concern, although further research is required to give a definitive answer.
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine indicated that the new study should not be cause for alarm. However, to be sure, “it would be wise to avoid sexual contact with men until 14 days have passed since they are asymptomatic,” Dr. Peter Schlegel, the group’s former president, said in a statement.