VOLUME 2, ISSUE 2, P140-149, APRIL 01, 2021
Ilan Tur-Kaspa, M.D., Tomer Tur-Kaspa, Grace Hildebrand, B.A., David Cohen, M.D.
To determine if SARS-CoV-2, which has led to the rapidly spreading COVID-19 global pandemic, is sexually transmitted. Since the putative receptor for the virus is identified in reproductive organs, it is also important to examine if COVID-19 may affect human fertility.
A systematic review of English publications was conducted up to December 11, 2020 in PubMed, NIH iCite COVID-19 portfolio, Cochrane Library, and Google Scholar databases, searching for SARS-CoV-2 in the testes; seminal, prostatic, and vaginal fluids; and cervical smears. A total of 1,997 records were identified, duplicates were removed, and 1,490 records were reviewed for eligibility by examining titles and abstracts. Subsequently, 202 full-text relevant articles were reviewed by 2 independent reviewers. Forty-seven studies (literature reviews, editorials, and guidelines) were assessed qualitatively, and 23 studies that tested the male and female reproductive tracts of patients with COVID-19 for SARS-CoV-2 were quantitatively analyzed.
No epidemiological investigations to date have described evidence suggesting that COVID-19 is an STD. While angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 receptor is found in the reproductive organs, the lack of co-expression of the TMPRSS2 modulatory protein, required for SARS-CoV-2 cell entry, in testicular cells, sperm, or oocytes, argues against the hypothesis that gametes transmit SARS-CoV-2. Molecular detection studies of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in the male and female reproductive tracts were summarized: 98.0% (293/299) of the seminal fluids, 16/17 testicular biopsies, all 89 prostatic fluids, 98.3% (57/58) of the vaginal fluids, all 35 cervical smears, and all 16 oocyte samples tested negative for SARS-CoV-2. None of the studies confirmed sexual transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Nonetheless, COVID-19 may have detrimental effects on male reproduction by inducing orchitis and/or decreasing testosterone levels, sperm counts, and motility.
On the basis of the current worldwide published information, COVID-19 is not an STD. This information is important for clinicians, proposed guidelines for public health, U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines for gamete and tissue donor eligibility, and fertility treatments. Universal precautions, currently practiced worldwide, are adequate and sufficient at this time to prevent the transmission of known or unknown viral infections. We suggest that recovered patients of COVID-19, especially those with infertility, should be evaluated for their ovarian and testicular function.