COVID-19 has affected people in different ways. Some have experienced little or no symptoms, and some, very serious. Experts say effects of the virus can linger for months, but long-term implications of the infection still remain somewhat of a mystery, even to experts.
Initially thought as an infection that primarily affects the lungs, it is now an illness that affects many parts of the human body, and in a new study, COVID-19 may negatively affect the male reproductive system.
In the new study “Viral pathogenesis of SARS-COV-2 infection and male reproductive health” published by The Royal Society, preliminary reports suggest the possibility of direct and indirect infection of COVID-19 in the reproductive system of males and possible impact on general health and well-being potentially leading to infertility.
Why COVID is putting Men's Sexual and Reproductive Health at Risk
COVID-19, or SARS-CoV-2 mainly enters the body by binding to ACE2, otherwise known as angiotensin-converting enzyme 2. This enzyme, ACE2, acts as the receptor for the virus and allows it to infect the cell. It is attached to cell membranes of cells located in the lungs, arteries, heart, kidney and intestines.
The new study reports, “Though ACE2 is found predominantly on the surface of epithelial cells in the lungs, it is also expressed in other tissues in the body, and as a result, there is a high probability of SARS-CoV-2 infection of other organ systems, including the digestive, urogenital, circulatory, central nervous and reproductive systems.”
Male Fertility and COVID-19
The scientists say, there is a high expression of the ACE2 receptor in testicular tissue which makes the male genital system a potential target of the SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Because of this, male sexual and reproductive health may be in jeopardy as a long-term effect of COVID-19.
Key Findings of the Study:
- Possibility of long-term effect on testicular tissue, impacting reproductive performance.
- Virus interferes with sex hormone and sperm production.
- Possibility of sexual transmission of the virus can NOT be ruled out.
- Causes disruption in men's testosterone and other sex hormones.
- Temporary or permanent damage to reproductive tissue caused by inflammation, which affects fertility.
Stress & Fertility
We know stress can negatively impact our lives and our health. In last week’s blog we shared a new study showing the link between cancer & stress, and this study shows how stress can also affect male sexual and reproductive health.
Lead author in the study, Shubhadeep Roychoudhury, PhD says, "SARS-CoV-2-infected men should be provided with psychological consultation in time to avoid irrational fear and excessive stress, as these may indirectly affect their reproductive health and well-being.”
In a previous study, researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health confirm the link between stress and male infertility. According to that study, stress affected testosterone levels and sperm quality.
Which came first, stress or infertility? Like the chicken and the egg theory, does stress cause infertility or does infertility cause stress. Well, both could be correct. As noted in the previous studies, stress can cause infertility, but infertility can also cause stress.
Infertility is a crisis affecting patients all over the world. Patients that experience infertility also experience emotional turmoil and they are at higher risk or depression, anxiety and distress.
“The incidence of infertility is quite high, impacting 1 in 10 women with 40-50% of cases due to male infertility. Moreover, it is increasing.” Marc Shuman, M.D., Emeritus Professor and Chief Medical Officer at MORE Health said. He goes on to say, “Dealing with infertility is stressful and can be quite challenging requiring experts to evaluate and treat the disorder.”
Long-term effects of COVID-19 on male fertility
Because of the emergence of COVID-19 in 2020, these are the early days for understanding the long-term effects of COVID-19 and more studies on male fertility will be important. Stay tuned to the MORE Health Blog for the most up-to-date information on COVID-19 and your health.
If you are or someone you know is experiencing infertility, we can help. Prodigy Fertility by MORE Health provides virtual fertility consultations with the world’s leading medical experts and virtual medical second opinions and recommended treatment plans on infertility, reproductive health issues, or high-risk pregnancy. Available as an employee benefit or individual case basis, contact us today for more information.