Hubei government deletes viral report claiming Covid-19 could damage male fertility

Sperm in an undated microscopic image.
PHOTO: Reuters

It is theoretically possible that Covid-19 could be damaging to men's reproductive health, according to an article published on the Hubei government's website on Thursday, only to be removed a few hours later.

Men who had contracted the disease and recovered from it should seek medical advice on whether it might have had a detrimental impact on their fertility, said the piece, which was produced by a team from the reproductive medicine centre at Tongji Hospital in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei.

While there was no evidence to suggest the infection could damage the male reproductive system, it was theoretically possible as the coronavirus was genetically similar to the one that caused SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), it said.

The infection could result in "impairment of immune homeostasis in the testes", which could cause orchitis - an inflammation of the testicles - which in turn could reduce a man's sperm count and possibly lead to infertility, it said.

Both Covid-19 and SARS invade cells by combining with an enzyme called Ace2, which exists in large amounts in the testicles, as well as in other organs like the kidneys and heart.

Men who had contracted the disease should seek medical advice "so that problems can be detected and treated as early as possible", it said.

The Hubei government declined to say why the article - which was widely shared on Chinese social media before being removed - had been deleted.

Qi Guangchong, an andrologist at Yueyang Hospital of Integrated Traditional Chinese and Western Medicine in Shanghai, said is was not uncommon for viral infections to cause problems with the male reproductive system.

"Many viruses have been proved to affect male fertility, including those that cause hepatitis B and mumps. A third of mumps patients develop orchitis, and in some cases the testes get smaller, leading to infertility," he said.

"I have received a few SARS patients with infertility over the years, but the sample is too small to draw any conclusion," he said.

"For those who have contracted the new virus and plan to be fathers, I'd suggest they do a fertility test."

According to a separate study by urologists at Suzhou Affiliated Hospital of Nanjing University that was published last month on MedRxiv.org - a platform for papers that have not been peer-reviewed - the novel coronavirus may directly bind to Ace2-positive cells and damage patients' kidneys and testicular tissue.

Such damage to the testes may lead to infertility and testicular tumours, it said.

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This article was first published inĀ South China Morning Post.