Implications if COVID19 can be sexually transmitted

COVID19 shares many similarities with other common coronavirus respiratory infections. But it seems to have some unique hallmarks, such as the long-term effects on smell and taste. COVID19 sufferers sometimes report loss of smell and taste that may last up to a couple of months. It appears to be one of the early warning signs of infection. In fact, some studies have shown that up to 80% of COVID19 patients report this symptom.

Impact on male infertility

Now, there is another potential issue with this disease, sexual transmission. A new Chinese study claims that COVID19 may leave men infertile and could be transmitted sexually. The research was published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association. It found remnants (viral RNA) of coronavirus in 16% of semen samples from infected males.

Dr. John Aitken, Hunter Medical Research Institute, Australia compared it to the Zika virus, which hit the headlines a few years ago. He said, “It should be emphasized that sperm have the capacity to carry viral infections from the male to the female reproductive tract. This happened during the sexual transmission of Zika, for example.”

Death of sperm cells

Zika is a mostly mosquito-borne virus, but it can also be sexually transmitted. Zika has its own effects on pregnancy and couples who suspect they may have it are advised to make sure that they are free of it for three months at least before trying for a baby. In terms of male fertility, research showed the presence of COVID19 in human sperm could lead to a build-up of angiotensin II. This is a hormone that causes an immune response against the invading COVID-19 virus particles. The subsequent immune response may inadvertently cause the death of sperm cells.

However, we don’t yet know the implications from these findings. For instance, the presence of viral RNA in semen does not necessarily mean the presence of live COVID19 virus. So, the next step will be to see if infectious viruses can also be isolated from the semen of COVID19 patients and survivors. If so, this would mean that the disease might be transmitted sexually. If this is shown to be the case, a further logical question is how long does it persist? This is important because, in the case of other viruses like the one causing Ebola, it has been shown to be several months. In the meantime, the researchers suggest that males who contract COVID19 should consider using a condom for a couple of months after they are clear of the disease.