Covid-19 infection could damage testicles, harm sex drive in men, study shows

Professor Yuen Kwok Yung led the study on testicular and hormonal changes in hamsters infected with the coronavirus.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Researchers from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) have found that the coronavirus could damage testicles, lower sex drive and affect fertility in men.

The findings, released on Sunday (Feb 20) by Professor Yuen Kwok Yung and his team from HKU, were based on a study of testicular and hormonal changes in hamsters infected with the virus.

The infected hamsters suffered from a sharp drop in sperm count and serum testosterone, a male sex hormone, four to seven days after infection.

The rodents also developed chronic asymmetric testicular atrophy, a decrease in the size and weight of the testicles.

Acute testicular inflammation, haemorrhage, and death of tissue in the sperm cell-producing seminiferous tubules and disruption of spermatogenesis, a process of sperm cell development, were also detected.

The inflammation, degeneration and death of testicular tissue persisted seven to 120 days after infection.

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The hamsters developed pneumonia but it was mild and they recovered without help.

Both the Omicron and Delta variants of the coronavirus were found to cause similar effects.

“It is important to be aware of possible hypogonadism (low sex drive) and subfertility,” said Yuen, who led the research effort, adding that vaccination could prevent complications.

Previous studies have reported testicular pain in Covid-19 patients. An autopsy study of human males who died from Covid-19 showed inflammation and cell damage in the testicles, even though the virus was not always found in semen specimens, the researchers said.

The latest study has been accepted for publication in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.