Evaluation of SARS-CoV-2 in Human Semen and Effect on Total Sperm Number: A Prospective Observational Study

World J Mens Health. 2021 Jul;39(3):489-495. doi: 10.5534/wjmh.200192. Epub 2021 Feb 24.


Purpose: The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic has created a surge of research to help better understand the breadth of possible sequelae. However, little is known regarding the impact on semen parameters and fertility potential. We sought to investigate for presence of viral RNA in semen of men with SARS-CoV-2 infection and to evaluate its effect on semen parameters in ejaculate.

Materials and methods: We prospectively recruited thirty men diagnosed with acute SARS-CoV-2 infection using real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) of pharyngeal swab specimens. Semen samples were collected from each individual using mailed kits. Follow-up semen samples were done with mailed kits or in-person in office setting. Semen analysis and PCR was performed after samples were received.

Results: Thirty semen samples from recovered men were obtained 11-64 days after testing positive for SAR-CoV-2 infection. The median duration between positive SAR-CoV-2 test and semen collection was 37 days (interquartile range [IQR]=23). The median total sperm number (TSN) in ejaculate was 12.5 million (IQR=52.1). When compared with age-matched SARS-CoV-2(-) men, TSN was lower among SARS-CoV-2(+) men (p=0.0024). Five men completed a follow-up sperm analysis (median 3 months) and had a median TSN of 18 million (IQR=21.6). No RNA was detected by means of RT-PCR in the semen in 16 samples tested.

Conclusions: SARS-CoV-2 infection, though not detected in semen of recovered men, can affect TSN in ejaculate in the acute setting. Whether SARS-CoV-2 can affect spermatogenic function long-term remains to be evaluated.

Keywords: COVID-19; Infertility, male; SARS-CoV-2; Semen; Sperm count.