Doctors in the coronavirus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan plan to embark on a long-term study of COVID-19 impact on the male reproductive system to verify initial research, indicating that the pathogen could affect sex hormone levels in men.
Though still preliminary and not peer-reviewed, the study is the first clinical observation of the potential impact of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, on the male reproductive system especially among younger groups.
A paper published on the preprint research platform of medRxiv.org, the researchers from Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University and the Hubei Clinical Research Centre for Prenatal Diagnosis and Birth Health said they analysed blood samples from 81 men aged 20 to 54 who tested positive for the coronavirus and were hospitalised in January, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported on Thursday.
The median age of the participants was 38 and roughly 90 per cent of them had only mild symptoms. The samples were collected in the last days of their stay in hospital.
Last month, a Chinese health official said two thirds of the victims of the virulent coronavirus were males with 80 per cent of the dead were over 60-years-old.
The majority of those who died were men accounting for about two-thirds and women for one-third, Jiao Yahui an official of China's National Health Commission said.
The doctors researching impact of COVID-19 on men reproductive system used the samples to look at the ratio of testosterone to luteinising hormone (T/LH).
Since more than half of the people with COVID-19 were reproductive-aged, more attention should be paid to the effect of Sars-CoV-2 on the reproductive system, the Wuhan researchers said in their paper, referring to the official name for the new coronavirus, the Post report said.
They said their results were not conclusive and the blood samples were not direct proof of reproductive problems with COVID-19 patients. Other factors, such as medication and immune system response could also cause changes in hormones.
The researchers said they planned to launch a long-term study, which might include the collection and analysis of sperm samples and interviews with coronavirus patients.
Previous studies have indicated that the new coronavirus could bind with ACE2, a receptor protein cell.
Li Yufeng, a professor of reproductive medicine at Tongji Hospital in Wuhan, had observed in a study male sexual glands could become a major target of the coronavirus attack.
Other studies have also suggested that severe acute respiratory syndrome or Sars, a distant relative of the new coronavirus, could also cause inflammation in the male sex glands, the Post report said.
A researcher with the State Key Laboratory of Reproductive Medicine at Nanjing Medical University, said the new observations were highly valuable information but a bigger sample would be needed to clarify the results.
Many viruses can affect fertility, but not every virus can cause a pandemic. If the impact is long-lasting it can be a problem, the Post quoted the unidentified researcher as saying.