Does COVID affect male fertility? [2022 Update]
A recent study of 120 Belgian men who recovered from COVID-19 infections suggests that SARS-CoV-2 (COVID) poses dangers to male fertility by affecting sperm motility and sperm count (1).
Medical Journal Review
COVID, Fertility, & Sperm Health
The Short Answer.
This study suggests that COVID infections negatively affect sperm health in men for at least 3 months after their initial infection (1).
- Researchers analyzed 120 men who recovered from COVID to determine if their sperm cells suffered DNA damage.
- Sperm motility and sperm count were reduced in men for at least 3 months after COVID-19 infection.
- Interestingly, the severity of COVID-19 infection and the presence of fever were not correlated with sperm characteristics. In other words, the primary factor in sperm damage is simply contracting COVID rather than how bad one's symptoms were.
How did this study about COVID and sperm health work?
Researchers collected blood and semen samples from 120 Belgian men between the ages of 18 and 60 who had recovered from COVID-19 infections within one to eight weeks of collecting samples.
They tested for two main factors of semen health: sperm motility (how well sperm are able to move) and sperm count (the concentration of sperm in one's semen).
Sperm quality was assessed using the World Health Organization's criteria for semen characteristics (2). DNA damage to sperm cells was assessed by quantifying the DNA fragmentation index and the high density stainability. Finally antibodies against SARS-CoV2 spike-1 antigen, nuclear and S1-receptor binding domain were measured by Elisa and chemilumenscent microparticle immunoassays, repsectively.
What is a healthy sperm motility level?
Sperm motility is a measure of how well sperm cells are able to move. Healthy sperm motility is defined as sperm cells that have forward progression of at least 25 micrometers per second (3).
Sperm motility is classified into four types:
- Non-motile sperm (no movement)
- Non-progressive sperm motility (less than 5 micrometers per second
- Slow sperm motility (less than 25 micrometers per second)
- Health sperm motility (over 25 micrometers per second)
How does COVID affect sperm motility?
In this study, researchers found that sperm motility decreased in men that had recovered from COVID (1):
- Within 1 month of recovery from COVID: 60% of men had reduced sperm motility.
- Within 1-2 months of recovery from COVID: 37% of men had reduced sperm motility.
- After 3 months of recovery from COVID: 28% of men had reduced sperm motility.
What is sperm count and what's a normal sperm count level?
Sperm count is a critical factor in male fertility. It refers to the number of sperm cells contained in a given volume of semen. It's typically measured in millions of sperm cells per milliliter (mL) of semen.
A normal sperm count ranges from 15 million sperm to more than 200 million sperm per milliliter (mL) of semen. Anything less than 15 million sperm per milliliter is considered to be a low sperm count (4).
How does COVID affect sperm count?
In this study, researchers found that sperm count decreased in men that had recovered from COVID (1):
- Within 1 month of recovery from COVID: 37% of men had reduced sperm count.
- Within 1-2 months of recovery from COVID: 29% of men had reduced sperm count.
- After 2 months of recovery from COVID: 6% of men had reduced sperm count.
COVID and Fertility: Do vaccines affect male fertility?
COVID and Fertility: How long for sperm health to recover after COVID?
1. Sperm quality and absence of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in semen after COVID-19 infection: a prospective, observational study and validation of the SpermCOVID test. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2021.10.022
2. World Health Organization reference values for human semen characteristics. Human Reproduction Update, Volume 16, No. 3 (2010). doi:10.1093/humupd/dmp048
3. Semen analysis and sperm function tests: How much to test? doi: 10.4103/0970-1591.78424
4. Semen Quality as a Predictor of Subsequent Morbidity: A Danish Cohort Study of 4,712 Men With Long-Term Follow-up. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwx067