This is the result of a study published on Friday in the specialist magazine “Reproduction” by two scientists from the Justus Liebig University in Giessen. According to independent experts, further studies must be carried out to determine whether the virus actually endangers the fertility of those affected.
An infection with the coronavirus can lead to severe to fatal respiratory diseases, but it can also attack other organs such as the kidneys, intestines or heart. According to previous studies, the virus can also affect the testes, impair the development of sperm cells and damage reproductive hormones. But the effects on the reproductive capacity of men are still unclear.
Behzad Hajizadeh Maleki and Bakhtyar Tartibian from Justus Liebig University analyzed the sperm of 84 men under the age of 40 who were infected with the coronavirus and most of whom suffered from a severe form of Covid-19 for two months for their study . The scientists compared their data with data from 105 healthy men.
In the sick men, the markers for inflammation and oxidative stress in sperm were significantly higher than in the control group – a chemical imbalance that can damage the DNA and proteins in the body. The authors also discovered a “significantly lower” concentration and mobility of the sperm – as well as significantly more changed sperm.
According to Maleki, this indicates a “lower quality of the sperm” among Covid patients and a “reduced fertility potential”. Although these effects seemed to improve over time, the levels in those affected remained “significantly and abnormally elevated,” he said.
The more seriously ill the patient, the greater the change, he added. They correspond to the state of oligoasthenoteratozoospermia, a pathological change in male sperm – the most common cause of male infertility. Maleki suggested that the WHO should declare the male reproductive system to be a high-risk organ in Covid.
Don’t panic now!
Uninvolved experts welcomed the study, but at the same time warned that further investigations would be necessary before jumping to conclusions. “Men shouldn’t be overly alarmed,” said Alison Campbell of CARE fertility clinics in the UK. There is still no evidence that Covid-19 is permanently damaging the sperm.
Campbell pointed out that the Covid patients were treated with corticosteroids and antiviral therapies, unlike the control group. This could have skewed the results.
Allan Pacey of Sheffield University also urged caution when interpreting the data. The reduced sperm quality could also be due to other factors, he explained, pointing out that more men in the Covid group were overweight than in the control group. It is also known that “fever can impair sperm production, regardless of the cause”.