COVID-19 can cause fertility problems in men, study finds

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Men who want to start or add to their families have a new reason to take precautions against COVID-19. A new study concludes the disease can reduce fertility.

PhD student and lead researcher Behzad Hajizadeh Maleki and his team from Justus-Liebig-University in Germany investigated the effect of COVID-19 infection on male fertility by evaluating markers of inflammation, oxidative stress, sperm cell death and semen quality.

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The researchers studied 84 men with confirmed COVID-19 and 105 age-matched healthy controls at 10-day intervals for a follow-up time of 60 days. In men with COVID-19, markers of inflammation and oxidative stress in sperm cells were more than 100% higher compared to age-matched healthy controls, and 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, the researchers said in a press release. The study was published Friday in the journal Reproduction.

“These effects on sperm cells are associated with lower sperm quality and reduced fertility potential. 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 said.

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These findings mean men recovering from COVID-19 might find it harder to conceive because of abnormally low sperm quality. Maleki suggests reproductive function should be monitored and evaluated by health professionals following infection, to detect and avoid more severe reproduction problems.

He added: “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 Organisation.”

The researchers acknowledge more extensive studies with longer follow-up are needed to validate their conclusions.

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