Covid adds its spin to the science of pregnancy.
Couples hoping to become pregnant have another reason to get the vaccine and take precautions against COVID-19. According to a new scientific study, the virus might reduce sperm counts, making it harder to conceive a baby.
The peer-reviewed study, published in the Fertility and Sterility journal, took samples from 120 men in Belgium averaging about 35-years-old. The research found that sperm count was reduced in 37% of men tested less than one month after COVID-19 infection. One to two months after infection, sperm counts were reduced in 29% of men tested, and 6% of men showed reduced sperm counts two months past infection.
Here’s a quick roundup of what various research studies have reported about patients affected by or recovering from COVID-19:
- 39% of patients had clinically low sperm count in a scientific study of men who’d all previously fathered at least one child without any reproductive assistance. Sperm function was compromised in 61%.
- 33% of the semen samples in one study showed low sperm quality and lesser ability to swim. 25% also reported low libido, and one patient reported the failure to achieve an erection. The patients also had significant hormone changes, which can be indicators of fertility disturbances.
- An Iranian study analyzing semen samples from patients every 10 days for 60 days found imbalances of free radicals and antioxidants, signs of inflammation and the activation of pathways that facilitate sperm cell death. Sperm concentration was reduced by 516% and its ability to swim by 209%.
- An Italian study that asked online survey respondents to self-report COVID diagnosis and erectile dysfunction symptoms found that the disease increases the risk nearly sixfold.
- 50% of the biopsies in a Florida study showed an impaired ability to produce sperm. 17% showed inflammation.
- In another international study, damaging changes to the seminiferous tubules where sperm develops were common as well as swelling and congestion of the testes, a sign of localized infection.
How sperm swims.
Sperm have a weird way of swimming. Rather than undulating their tails symmetrically, like an eel, they have a lopsided wiggle that combines with spinning about their long axis to give an overall forward motion. The asymmetry cancels out because of the rotation
In the latest study, the research team checked the semen samples for two major measures of male fertility: sperm motility and sperm count. One of the keys to sperm fertility is for the sperm to just keep swimming and just keep swimming, until it can reach an egg to fertilize.
60% of the participants in the study had lower sperm motilities on average during the first month after having Covid-19. The sperm’s lower ability to swim persisted one to two months after, which has obvious effect on fertility.
The big pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer, GSK, Johnson & Johnson may soon turn their research in this fertility direction. There’s money on the table.
There is no clear evidence if these covid effects on fertility are temporary or might cause lasting damage. Many of the patients included in the above studies were experiencing severe, systemic infections at the time of analysis. Some experts noted that the symptoms could be related to the psychosocial stress, depression and isolation that came from catching Covid, falling ill or being in some kind of lockdown.
Although these studies should be interpreted carefully, the findings do demonstrate an adverse but potentially reversible consequence of COVID-19 on sperm quality.
As in all diseases, prevention is better than cure, and vaccination might have more benefits than you think.