The study is based on semen analysis, also known as sperm count test, of 30 men between 19 and 43 years admitted for Covid-19 treatment at AIIMS Patna between October 2020 and April 2021. The first analysis was done immediately after the infection and a second test carried out on semen collected after a gap of two and a half months.
It revealed though SARS-CoV-2 was not present in the semen, the semen quality of these men was poor in the first sampling. Even after a gap of two and a half months, it failed to reach its optimum level.
Semen is the fluid containing sperm that’s released during ejaculation. A semen analysis measures three major factors of sperm health: the number of sperm, the shape of the sperm, the movement of the sperm, also known as “sperm motility”.
During the first semen sampling, the study published in the Cureus Journal of Medical Science shows, 12 (40%) out of 30 men had low sperm count (less than 39 million per ejaculate). Even after two and a half months, test showed, 3 (10%) men had low sperm count.
The semen volume (which should be between 1.5 to 5 ml per ejaculation) was found to be less than 1.5 ml in 10 (33%) out of 30 participants in the first semen sampling.
The viscosity (thickness of the seminal fluid), vitality (number of live sperm) and total motility (number of moving sperm) was affected in 26 (87%), 29 (97%) and 22 (74%) of the participants, the first semen sampling revealed. These parameters did improve on second semen sampling but, researchers say, it did not attain the optimum level. “Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) clinics and sperm banking facilities should consider assessing the semen of Covid-19 males and exclude men with a positive history of SARS-CoV-2 until their semen quality returns to normal,” the study, led by Dr Satish P Dipankar, suggests.
It adds that though the coronavirus isn’t present in the semen, it may still affect its quality due to factors such as increased over production of reactive oxidative stress during the infection and increase in the levels of leukocytes in the body including the seminal plasma. “One of the primary symptoms of Covid-19 is a high grade fever, which may disrupt the blood-testis barrier exposing the sperm cells and testicular tissues to circulating cytokines and other inflammatory mediators generated in the body. This may result in a systemic inflammatory state and immune response against the seminiferous epithelium and accessory glands resulting in low semen quality,” the researchers explain in their study.
Dr Gauri Agarwal, founder of the Seeds of Innocence IVF Centre, said Covid-19 and its effects on reproductive function, particularly male fertility, are being studied and documented across the globe. “It is well known that the Covid-19 spike protein targets ACE2 (angiotensin-converting enzyme 2), which is highly expressed by several cell types in the testes including Leydig cells, Sertoli cells and the germ line,” she said. Dr Agarwal said they recommend screening the patients for semen quality before IVF.