Sperm quality and absence of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in semen after COVID-19 infection: a prospective, observational study and validation of the SpermCOVID test

To study the contagiousness of sperm and its influence on fertility after recovery from COVID-19 infection.

Design
Prospective cohort study.

Setting
University medical center.

Patient(s)
One hundred twenty Belgian men who had recovered from proven COVID-19 infection.

Intervention(s)
No intervention was performed.

Main outcome measure(s)
Sermm quality was assessed using the World Health Organisation criteria. DNA damage to sperm cells was assessed by quantifying the DNA fragmentation index and the high density stainability. Finally antibodies against SARS-CoV2 spike-1 antigen, nuclear and S1-receptor binding domain were measured by Elisa and chemilumenscent microparticle immunoassays, repsectively.

Result(s)
SARS-CoV-2 RNA was not detected in semen during the period shortly after infection nor at a later time. Mean progressive motility was reduced in 60% of men tested shortly (2 months after COVID-19 infection. Mean sperm count was reduced in 37% of men tested shortly (2 months after COVID-19 infection. The severity of COVID-19 infection and the presence of fever were not correlated with sperm characteristics, but there were strong correlations between sperm abnormalities and the titers of SARS-CoV-2 IgG antibody against spike 1 and the receptor- binding domain of spike 1, but not against nucleotide, in serum. High levels of antisperm antibodies developed in three men (2.5%).

Conclusion(s)
Semen is not infectious with SARS-CoV-2 at 1 week or more after COVID-19 infection (mean, 53 days). However, couples with a desire for pregnancy should be warned that sperm quality after COVID-19 infection can be suboptimal. The estimated recovery time is 3 months, but further follow-up studies are under way to confirm this and to determine if permanent damage occurred in a minority of men.

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