TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — As scientists race to unravel the mysteries of the Wuhan coronavirus in an effort to stem its spread, a Chinese study has found the disease could lead to male infertility.
Fan Caibin, a urologist at Nanjing Medical University Affiliated Suzhou Hospital, on Feb. 12 posted the results of a scientific research project which found that the disease not only damages the lungs, but also the kidneys and testes, potentially leading to male infertility. The team summarized the clinical data of three previous studies, which included six patients, 41 patients, and 99 patients, respectively.
The study found that kidney dysfunction occurs in 3 to 10 percent of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infection. In addition, acute damage to the kidneys occurs in seven percent of patients.
As for the disease's effect on the male urinary tract and reproductive system, the research team used an online dataset to analyze the expression of Angiotensin-converting enzyme-2 (ACE2), the receptor the virus uses as its host. SARS is known to use ACE2 to enter and infect human cells, and COVID-19 appears to be using the same method.
The study found that ACE2 "highly expresses in renal tubular cells, Leydig cells, and cells in seminiferous ducts in testes." Their findings indicate that the virus may directly bind to ACE2 positive cells and inflict damage to patients' kidney and testicular tissue.
Researchers warned that, in some cases, the testicular damage caused by the virus may lead to male infertility and testicular tumors. The scientists pointed out that HIV, HBV (Hepatitis B), and the mumps can enter testicular cells and cause viral orchitis (inflammation of testicles).
The researchers added that orchitis has also been found to be a complication of SARS infections, potentially affecting spermatogenesis (production of sperm). The research team then concluded that during the treatment of COVID-19, doctors should pay attention to the risk of testicular lesions.
After patients recover from COVID-19, doctors should carry out an evaluation of their reproductive functions, "especially young male patients," wrote the researchers.