How Did the Coronavirus Get Into Semen?
In early May, Chinese scientists announced that they had discovered the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in semen. Collecting samples from 38 men with COVID-19, they found that six had the virus in their reproductive fluid.
Assuming the results were not in error (which is a possibility), the finding raised on obvious question: how the heck did a respiratory virus get into men's reproductive systems?
"Owing to the imperfect blood-testes/deferens/epididymis barriers, SARS-CoV-2 might be seeded to the male reproductive tract, especially in the presence of systemic local inflammation," the authors hypothesized.
A team of reproductive health specialists out of IRCCS Ospedale Policlinico San Martino and the University of Padova in Italy offered more ideas in a recent article published to the journal Andrology.
SARS-CoV-2 uses the ACE2 and TMPRSS2 enzymes to infect cells, and both of these enzymes are widespread in the testes, the male reproductive glands that produce sperm and testosterone. So the testes are an obvious target. These two enzymes are also present in the urinary tract, raising the potential that semen could pick up residual virus particles from an infection there during ejaculation. The prostate, a walnut-sized gland located between the bladder and the penis that produces the fluid medium for sperm in semen, could also provide a refuge for the coronavirus, the authors say.
"We know that multiple viruses can survive and actively replicate inside the prostate, relatively sheltered from systemic therapies," they wrote.
No matter how the coronavirus got into semen, there doesn't seem to be much cause for concern at this time. There was no overt sign that the virus particles were viable and could transmit infection. Nor were there clear indications of lasting damage to the study subjects' reproductive systems.