In a new study, researchers found that COVID-19 may negatively affect sperm quality and reduce fertility in men.
They found that COVID-19 infection can cause increased sperm cell death, inflammation, and oxidative stress, resulting in lower sperm quality and potentially reducing fertility.
These findings provide the first, direct experimental evidence that the male reproductive system could be targeted and damaged by COVID-19.
They suggest that men’s reproductive function should be evaluated after infection to detect and avoid further fertility problems.
The research was conducted by a team from Justus-Liebig-University.
COVID-19 is a coronavirus that causes respiratory illness and in older people, or those with particular underlying medical problems, the infection can be severe and even lead to death.
The World Health Organisation announced a global pandemic of the virus on 11 March 2020.
The disease is predominantly transmitted through respiratory droplets that infect the lungs, kidneys, intestines and heart.
However, other studies have also found that it can infect the male reproductive organs, impairing sperm cell development and disrupting reproductive hormones.
These findings suggest that the male reproductive system is potentially vulnerable to COVID-19 infection, but the effects of the virus on male reproductive function are not clear.
In the study, the team examined the effect of COVID-19 infection on male fertility by evaluating markers of inflammation, oxidative stress, sperm cell death and semen quality.
They tested 84 men with confirmed COVID-19 and 105 age-matched healthy men. A urology expert determined that all the men were fertile.
The team found that in men with COVID-19, markers of inflammation and oxidative stress in sperm cells were strongly increased by more than 100% compared to age-matched healthy controls, pathways that facilitate sperm cell death were activated, and sperm concentration was reduced by 516%, mobility by 209% and sperm cell shape was altered by 400%.
This state shows oligoasthenoteratozoospermia, which is one of the most common causes of subfertility in men.
These effects on sperm cells are associated with lower sperm quality and reduced fertility potential.
Although these effects tended to improve over time, they remained strongly and abnormally higher in the COVID-19 patients, and the magnitude of these changes was also related to disease severity.
These novel findings add to the current understanding of the disease and reveal that men recovering from COVID-19 may find it harder to conceive, due to abnormally low sperm quality.
This suggests reproductive function should be monitored and evaluated by health professionals following infection, to detect and avoid more severe reproduction problems in the future.
One author of the study is Ph.D. student Behzad Hajizadeh Maleki.
The study is published in Reproduction.
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