Although SARS-CoV-2 mainly affects the respiratory tract, the virus – and the body’s response to it – can damage other tissues. Recent evidence suggests that COVID-19 infection can reduce male fertility, and the virus has been detected in the male reproductive organs. Firuza Barik and Rajesh Barik at Jaslok Hospital, Sanjeeva Srivastava and colleagues at the Indian Institute of Technology wondered whether COVID-19 infection would have long-term effects on the male reproductive system. To find out, they decided to compare the protein levels in the semen of healthy men and those who had previously had mild or moderate Govt-19 disease.
The researchers examined sperm samples from 10 healthy men and 17 men who had recently recovered from COVID-19. None of the men between the ages of 20 and 45 had a previous history of infertility. The team found that the men who were rehabilitated had significantly reduced sperm count and motility, and that sperm of normal shape were less than those of the men without COVID-19. The researchers examined sperm proteins in semen using tandem liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry and found that 27 proteins were present in high levels and 21 proteins were in low levels in the restored men. COVID-19 recovery compared with the control group.
Many proteins are involved in reproduction. Two fertility-related proteins, semanogelin 1 and prosaposin, were found in less than half of the semen of the COVID-19 recovery group compared with the control group’s sperm. These findings suggest that SARS-CoV-2 may directly or indirectly affect male reproductive health and may persist even after recovery, the researchers say. They add that this work may also reveal insights into the pathophysiology of human reproduction in recovered men. However, they point out that large studies need to be done to confirm these findings, including a control group of men who recently recovered from another flu-like illness to confirm that the findings This is specific to COVID-19.
The study authors acknowledge funding from Jaslok Hospital.