COVID-19 may reduce male fertility

Monday, 01 February, 2021

COVID-19 may reduce male fertility

A German study published in Reproduction indicates that COVID-19 infection can cause increased sperm cell death, inflammation and oxidative stress, resulting in lower sperm quality and potentially reducing fertility.

The findings provide direct experimental evidence that the male reproductive system could be targeted and damaged by COVID-19, suggesting that men’s reproductive function should be evaluated after infection to detect and avoid further fertility problems.

Although COVID-19 is predominantly transmitted through respiratory droplets that infect the lungs, kidneys, intestines and heart, studies have found that it can infect the male reproductive organs, impairing sperm cell development and disrupting reproductive hormones.

Justus-Liebig-University PhD student and lead researcher Behzad Hajizadeh Maleki and his team investigated the effect of COVID-19 infection on male fertility by evaluating markers of inflammation, oxidative stress, sperm cell death and semen quality. Analysis was done at 10-day intervals for a follow-up time of 60 days, in 84 men with confirmed COVID-19 and 105 age-matched healthy controls. A urology expert determined that all the men were fertile.

In men with COVID-19, markers of inflammation and oxidative stress in sperm cells were significantly increased by more than 100% compared to age-matched healthy controls; pathways that facilitate sperm cell death were activated; sperm concentration was reduced by 516%, mobility by 209%; and sperm cell shape was altered by 400%. This state represents 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,” Behzad Hajizadeh Maleki explained.

“Although these effects tended to improve over time, they remained significantly and abnormally higher in the COVID-19 patients, and the magnitude of these changes were also related to disease severity.

“The results from this study also suggest that the male reproductive system should be considered a vulnerable route of COVID-19 infection and should be declared a high-risk organ by the World Health Organization.”

More extensive studies, with longer follow up, are necessary to validate the conclusions drawn from this study and determine exactly how COVID-19 affects reproduction and fertility in men.

Image credit: © Burgstedt

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