Researchers at the Justus-Liebig University compared 84 coronavirus-infected men with a 104-strong age-matched control group, and found,
according to the Telegraph, that “sperm concentration was reduced by 516 per cent, mobility by 209 per cent and sperm cell shape was altered by 400 per cent”.
“These effects on sperm cells are associated with lower sperm quality and reduced fertility potential,” explained PhD student Behzad Hajizadeh Maleki, who led the research.
“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,” Maleki added, warning 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 Organisation.”
Some experts, however, suggested that longer-term studies would be needed to say whether the impact of coronavirus on male fertility persists over time.
“Covid-19 enters host cells by binding its spike glycoprotein to the ACE2 receptor which is found at high levels within the testes,” explained Dr Channa Jayasena, of Imperial College London.
“This has made us concerned that Covid-19 could impair male infertility,” Jayasena continued, but he went on to stress that “Being ill from any virus such as the flu can temporarily drop your sperm count (sometimes to zero) for a few weeks or months.”
“This makes it difficult to work out how much of the reductions observed in this study were specific to Covid-19 rather than just from being ill,” he said.
“This study suggests there may be an inflammatory response in the testes following Covid-19, which makes it more plausible that Covid-19 influences male fertility.
“This makes it important to study the long-term effects of Covid-19 on male fertility.”
University of Sheffield andrology expert Professor Allan Pacey sounded a similar note of caution, saying that it was “no mean feat” that the study was “able to repeat [its] measurements every 10 days over a 60-day period”, but that “since sperm production takes just under three months, roughly, to be completed from start to finish”, it may have been ended too soon to draw definitive results.