While researchers are still working to uncover the effects of COVID-19 on developing babies and their mothers during pregnancy, the novel coronavirus may present another possible risk to families wishing to conceive: infection through assisted reproductive technologies.
Could COVID-19 be transferred through frozen sperm, preserved eggs, or even the embryos used in in-vitro fertilization (IVF)? A new case study in Human Reproduction suggests not.
The ACE2 receptor is the “doorway” that SARS-CoV-2 has been shown to use to infect cells in the lungs and respiratory tract and cause disease. Since eggs, sperm, and the human reproductive tract express the ACE2 receptor gene, it is theoretically possible that these cells could be infected and transmit the novel coronavirus.
To test if signs of virus were present in donated eggs, the researchers measured viral RNA in the preserved eggs of two women who tested positive for COVID-19 while undergoing the process of egg donation. In this process, eggs have to be hormonally stimulated from the ovaries, surgically retrieved, and then preserved.
The study found no detectable SARS-CoV-2 RNA — the biological material also measured in typical COVID-19 nasal swab or saliva-based tests — in any of the sixteen eggs tested from the two women.
While more data is certainly needed to make more general conclusions, this initial study suggests that individuals undergoing fertility treatment are unlikely to contract COVID-19 from the use of assisted reproductive technologies like egg donation.