By Shola Ogundipe
Coronavirus infection may lead to infertility in men even if they only suffer a mild form of the disease. This development came about after an Israeli study found that the sperm counts of infected men halved 30 days after they were diagnosed with COVID-19.
The study conducted at the Sheba Medical Centre in Tel Aviv, also alleged sperm motility—or its ability to move by itself—was also hampered.
But scientists insist the truth on whether Covid-19 permanently damages fertility is still unclear and that even flu causes a temporary drop in sperm counts.
According to the report in the journal of Fertility and Sterility, the claims that the changes were seen in men with mild cases did not address how many people were involved.
Scientists studying the effect of coronavirus on fertility have made similar claims in the past, but doctors insist reports of men having lower sperm counts are likely down to them having had a fever which is a tell-tale symptom of coronavirus, which makes it harder for the body to produce sperm. They also argue that production can bounce back after an infection has passed.
Professor Allan Pacey, an andrologist at the University of Sheffield and former chair of the British Fertility Society said coronavirus may cause a temporary drop in sperm production.
But it is not confirmed whether or not the effect could be long-lasting, harming the fertility of men.
Pacey said people who get coronavirus are probably quite unwell, and that even influenza will cause a decline in sperm count temporarily, but that the question is whether it is permanent and whether it is recoverable.
Research is yet to reveal whether long-term damage can be caused to testicles by coronavirus, and it could take several years before scientists have the answer.
Previous research has indicated, however, that any damage caused to the testes by an infection is not long-term.
Pacey cautioned against the finding in the new Israeli research that coronavirus can damage cells in the testicles responsible for making semen and the male hormone testosterone.