There are multiple reasons why men might be unable to have children of their own. More recently, researchers in China have added the coronavirus to possible causes. Their findings suggest that men who recover from the virus may need to seek fertility testing. What do other experts have to say about this? Continue reading to learn more.
Potential Coronavirus Effects on Male Reproductive Health
In February 2020, a group of researchers reported a possible link between the COVID-19 virus and male fertility. This was due to one of the receptors they observed that the pathogen uses to penetrate human cells.
The particular receptor they centered their attention on is called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). This was believed to have also played a role in the incidence of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
Studies have shown that people with the coronavirus exhibit abnormal renal function in some cases, apart from respiratory symptoms. There could even be kidney damage.
Based on the foregoing, the researchers developed an interest in finding out whether the virus will also impact the urinary and reproductive systems in males.
Therefore, using online data sets, the scientists looked into the expression of ACE2 in different organs in humans. This led to the discovery that the receptor was highly expressed in kidney and testes cells. Specifically, there was high expression in renal tubular cells as well as Leydig and seminiferous duct cells in testis.
These findings prompted the Chinese scientists to theorize that the coronavirus could harm patients’ kidney and testicular tissue. They, therefore, advised that health professionals should give attention to testicular lesion risk in male patients.
However, it doesn’t appear like the study involved male patients with COVID-19.
Some other experts said there’s no significant, verifiable evidence yet that the coronavirus impacts reproductive systems. They noted that it was unproven that the pathogen is present in the testes.
This was more in response to the Chinese study published online.
The ACE2 expression study appeared on the website of the Hubei province government but was later taken down. However, it was shared widely on social media in China before its removal. It is also still accessible via the medRxiv website.
Professor Allan Pacey, a renowned male fertility expert at UK’s University of Sheffield, described the paper as “highly theoretical.” He told Newsweek that it merely raises a topic for discussion or investigation by the scientific community.
“At present, it is somewhat premature to conclude from this study [that] COVID-19 will definitely affect male fertility,” Pacey said at the time, “but it is useful that the authors have raised this concern so that researchers can in due course take a look at the fertility of those who were infected by COVID-19.”
It is worthy of note that medRxiv, where the study appeared, does not usually provide peer-reviewed content. The website reports medical research that is awaiting evaluation before being used in clinical practice.
Assessing Male Fertility
Although the said research is yet to be evaluated, it will not hurt for men who have the coronavirus to consider checking their fertility status.
Professor Richard Sharpe, another leading fertility expert working at the University of Edinburgh, hinted how the coronavirus might impact fertility. He told Newsweek that the elevation of body temperature that pathogens cause can harm sperm production.
In another study published in March, a group of Chinese researchers found what they considered the “first direct evidence” of COVID-19 impacting male sexual health. They observed that SARS-CoV-2 alters the levels of male sex hormones.
Infected men have significantly higher levels of serum luteinizing hormone, compared to healthy counterparts. But they exhibited a drastic reduction in the ratio of testosterone to luteinizing hormone. Also, the patients’ ratio of follicle-stimulating hormone to luteinizing hormone dropped hugely.
Pacey advised that male COVID-19 patients who are worried about their fertility should discuss it with a doctor. A simple semen test might help them figure out whether there is a problem with their reproductive system.
However, the downside to semen analysis, in this case, is that there may not be reference readings. It is less likely that the affected men would have undergone fertility testing before getting infected. Therefore, it would be hard to tell if the virus is responsible for any irregularity.
The fertility expert suggested that semen analyses may help more for researchers studying a large population. It will be easier to assess a potential link using them in such a scenario.
Semen analysis is the most common technique for assessing male fertility. However, there are other tests available if you are a man looking to know the state of your reproductive system. They include sperm agglutination test, acrosome reaction test, and testicular biopsy, among others.
However, Sharpe told Newsweek that men worried about their fertility status should rather focus on their health. Ensuring that body heat is kept in check could help prevent a problem in this regard, according to him.
Chinese Scientists Raise Concerns Over Potential Link Between Coronavirus and Male Fertility (https://www.newsweek.com/chinese-scientists-coronavirus-male-fertility-1488235)
ACE2 Expression in Kidney and Testis May Cause Kidney and Testis Damage After 2019-nCoV Infection | medRxiv (https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.02.12.20022418v1)
Effect of SARS-CoV-2 infection upon male gonadal function: A single center-based study | medRxiv (https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.21.20037267v2)