Researchers caution on effects of coronavirus on male fertility


Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), is largely known to cause respiratory complications such as pneumonia, shortness of breath, extreme coughing and even fatal acute respiratory distress syndrome in patients.

As scientists unpack the new coronavirus day by day, we have come to know that it may cause gastrointestinal symptoms and, in some cases, even neurological problems. But what about its effect on the rest of the body – specifically in terms of fertility and the urinary tract? 

New research published in Nature Reviews Urology suggests that there is evidence that Covid-19 has implications for the urogenital tract, something which should be considered when treating Covid-19.

According to the paper, most patients with severe Covid-19 present with pneumonia-related symptoms, but some patients could develop serious urinary tract complications, including acute kidney injury (AKI), which requires continuous renal therapy.

Male reproductive system also affected

Besides kidney health, the paper states that male reproductive systems are especially vulnerable to Covid-19 infection. This has to do with dramatic changes in the sex hormones that have been observed in some patients with Covid-19.

This may lead to impaired function of the testes (gonadal function impairment).

The mechanism of Covid-19 and the reproductive system

It is already known that some viruses such as HIV, hepatitis B and C, mumps, Epstein–Barr and papilloma can cause viral orchitis, a condition where one, or both, of the male testes are inflamed. This condition may even lead to male infertility and testicular tumours.

In the case of coronavirus, testes autopsies from six patients who died from SARS – the virus which caused the 2003 outbreak – showed viral orchitis. 

The researchers concluded that the new coronavirus may have the same effect. In the paper, they also refer to a previous study outcome where patients with Covid-19 showed dramatically decreased levels of testosterone in comparison to their healthy counterparts. According to them, this could be a sign that reproductive health is impaired.

What Covid-19 patients (and their doctors) should know

The researchers emphasised that those who are predisposed to kidney conditions are more at risk for Covid-19-related complications, and when they do contract the disease, health professionals should monitor their kidney health. In the case of young men contracting Covid-19 who wish to have children in the future, it is suggested they have a fertility consultation later to ensure that there is no impaired gonadal function.

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Image credit: Getty Images
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