A new study led by Dr. Dan Aderka, head of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Service at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel, detected the virus in the sperm of some 13% of screened male COVID-19 patients. Researchers also detected a 50% decline in sperm volume, concentration and motility in patients with moderate cases of the disease - even 30 days following their initial diagnosis.
He explained to the Jerusalem Post that post-mortem tests of a dozen male novel coronavirus patients revealed moderate to extreme changes in the subjects’ testicular cells, which produce testosterone - the primary sex hormone responsible for sperm division and multiplication.
Testicular cells also support sperm development.
Aderka detailed that COVID-19 specifically binds to the ACE2 receptors and destroys the Sertoli and Leydig cells, which support sperm maturation and produce testosterone, respectively.
“As normal sperm maturation takes 70 to 75 days, it is possible that if we are doing a sperm examination two and a half months after recovery, we may see even more reduced fertility,” said the Israeli doctor to the Jerusalem Post.
“It could be even more detrimental.”
The full study is slated to be published in the international journal Fertility and Sterility.
Due to the virus appearing relatively recently, it remains unknown whether the reduction in fertility is reversible or permanent.
“Interestingly, an enzyme called TMPRSS2 assists the virus in binding to the ACE receptor, facilitating its internalization into the cells,” noted Aderka, suggesting that TMPRSS2 - which is activated by testosterone - could be the focus of further research.
“This phenomenon may explain the higher COVID-19 morbidity and mortality of men compared to women,” he told the Post, adding that it also may explain the lower morbidity and mortality of children, whose testosterone levels are low.
The Israeli doctor’s research also backed study findings by Chinese scholars Weiguo Zhao and Shixi Zhang, who reported that "SARS-CoV-2 can be present in the semen of patients with COVID-19, and SARS-CoV-2 may still be detected in the semen of recovering patients.”