What Is COVID-19 Triggered Male Infertility?

COVID-19 is a viral infection that was first discovered in December 2019 in China’s Wuhan city. This virus spread rather quickly worldwide and was soon declared a pandemic by the WHO. COVID-19 has been observed to severely impact many infected individuals and has been commonly associated with symptoms like fever, fatigue, shortness of breath, and so on 1.

The severity of the infection varies greatly depending on whether the disease is symptomatic or asymptomatic and those in critical condition have been observed to suffer from multiorgan failure, shock, as well as respiratory failure1.

Male infertility, on the other hand, is a disorder of the reproductive system in males. The failure to conceive after 12 or more months of unprotected intercourse can be defined as infertility. Low sperm count, blockages in the sperm tubes, abnormalities in the sperm, and erectile dysfunction (inability to keep an erection) are common factors associated with an increased risk of male infertility2.

The Role Of COVID-19 In Male Infertility 

While the exact impact of COVID-19 infection on male infertility is yet to be fully understood, there are reports on the potential harmful effects of Coronaviruses on the male reproductive system1.

Here’s a gist of how coronaviruses enter, invade, and damage the human cells.3 4 5

Various studies have observed increased activity of ACE-2 receptors in the male reproductive system (testicular cells, especially Sertoli cells, spermatogonia, Leydig cells, and seminiferous duct cells)6. The results of these studies are also indicative of the male testes being a potential target for direct damage by the virus. This may interfere with the process of spermatogenesis (the process of development and maturation of sperm), thereby, increasing the chances of affecting male infertility.

Fever & COVID-19 Triggered Male Infertility

Presently, there is no evidence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus affecting the male gametes directly. However, a common symptom that is often associated with the COVID-19 infection -  fever - has been clearly observed to impact spermatogenesis. As a result, male fertility may take a back seat for 72 to 90 days following a COVID-19 infection7 8. This is due to a significant decrease in the motility and concentration of sperm post an infection.

Medications & COVID-19 Triggered Male Infertility

Among the various therapeutic drugs used to treat COVID-19, Ribavirin - a broad spectrum antiviral drug - is observed to impair male fertility. This was initially used extensively in the treatment of COVID-19 initially. However, it has been observed to cause a significant fall in testosterone level in male rats and has also been noticed to impair the process of spermatogenesis by reducing sperm count9. Furthermore, this drug is also known to cause sperm abnormalities along with DNA fragmentation (DNA damage triggered by breakage of its strands) in sperm for up to 6 months after its course.

Other therapeutic drugs like Lopinavir/Ritonavir and Glucocorticoids have also been noticed to be a potential causes of male infertility by impairing the process of spermatogenesis 10 11 12.

All the above-mentioned scenarios associated with COVID-19 can trigger male infertility. Therefore, if you have been a victim to this infection, it’s best to give your swimmers a fertility check. While there are many tests in the market to check the quality of your sperm, LifeCell’s at-home SpermScore test is one your best choices as you can take it from the comfort and complete privacy of your home.

A Closing Note

In addition to the above factors, higher levels of stress and anxiety also plays a big role in causing male infertility. Patients as well as frontline health workers are at the highest risk of getting affected by COVD-19 triggered male fertility. In fact, increasing evidence supports that psychological factors play a significant role in COVID-19 triggered male infertility. It was observed that males with psychological disorders were less likely to achieve conception with their female partners as compared to those with any significant psychological issues1.  

So, while COVID-19 in itself could be a potential cause of male infertility in multiple ways, the panic surrounding the pandemic might also have a key role to play in triggering the same. However, more research on male patients who have recovered from COVID-19 is required to further investigate and understand the odds.