Severe cases of Covid-19 might impact the quality of a man’s sperm, thus possibly impacting his fertility, according to a new study published on Thursday in the journal Reproduction.
The disease can cause increased sperm cell death, inflammation and so-called oxidative stress, researchers reported. “This report provides the first direct evidence to date that COVID-19 infection impairs semen quality and male reproductive potential,” the study said.
Experts commenting on the research, however, said the capacity of the virus to compromise fertility in men remains unproven. While experts not involved in the study welcomed the research, but cautioned that more was needed before drawing hard and fast conclusions.
“Men should not be unduly alarmed,” noted Alison Campbell, director of embryology of the CARE Fertility Group in Britain.
Covid-19 causes respiratory illness, especially in older people and those with underlying medical problems. The world has seen more than 100 million confirmed cases since the disease emerged in central China in December 2019.
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Transmitted through respiratory droplets, the disease attacks the lungs, kidneys, intestines and heart. It can also infect male reproductive organs, impairing sperm cell development and disrupting reproductive hormones, earlier studies have shown. The same receptors the virus uses to access lung tissue are also found in the testicles. But the effects of the virus on the ability of men to reproduce remained unclear.
Behzad Hajizadeh Maleki and Bakhtyar Tartibian from Justus-Liebig-University in Germany searched for biological markers that might indicate a negative impact on fertility.
Analysis done at 10-day intervals for 60 days in 84 men with Covid-19 was compared to data for 105 healthy men.
In the Covid-19 patients, sperm cells showed a significant increase in markers of inflammation and oxidative stress, a chemical imbalance that can damage DNA and proteins in the body.
“These effects on sperm cells are associated with lower sperm quality and reduced fertility potential,” said Maleki in a statement. “Although these effects tended to improve over time, they remained significantly and abnormally higher in the Covid-19 patients.”
The more severe the disease, the bigger the changes, he added. The male reproductive system “should be considered a vulnerable route of Covid-19 infection and declared a high-risk organ by the World Health Organisation,” Maleki said.