covid and male fertility

The impact of Covid on our lives has been immense and for those going through fertility treatment it’s undoubtedly caused a lot of anxiety and stress.

Naturally a lot of couples questioned what impact Covid might have had on their fertility and whether there were any lasting effects. Initially, and understandably, there was no research about the effects of Covid on fertility however, now, over 2 years on we’re beginning to see some research appear.

Having reviewed the research it’s clear to see that Covid does have an effect on sperm health which any couple trying to conceive should be aware of.

How might the virus affect sperm?

There are several ways that the virus affects sperm health and it turns out it’s quite a complex process. In the interests of keeping it simple we won’t go into great detail here!  

None the less, we all know that when we get ill our body naturally goes into a state of war fighting off any virus. Unfortunately, that defence system creates an environment that isn’t conducive to healthy sperm production. Fever and inflammation all lead to the body going into a state of oxidative stress.

In brief, oxidative stress is where there’s an imbalance between free radicals (bad cells which damage good cells) and anti-oxidants (good cells which take out the bad cells).

When oxidative stress is raised within the body it creates extra damage to other cells in the body and it just so happens that sperm are particularly sensitive to this, especially as they’re one of the smallest cells in the body.  

When we’re facing a strong virus such as Covid the damage from the fever, inflammation and raised oxidative stress can be significant. So, it’s only natural to assume that if you’ve had a particularly strong immune response to Covid then there is likely to be a negative effect on your sperm quality. However, some research has also shown that even in mild cases there has been a significant decrease in sperm quality.

What research has shown is that the raised level of oxidative stress leads to poor sperm motility and vitality as well as an increase in DNA fragmentation.

All of these changes are going to significantly impact a couple’s chance of conceiving naturally or through treatments such as IVF.

Is there a risk of long-term damage?

Reassuringly research shows that most men’s samples returned to pre Covid levels after around 120 days. What’s interesting about that is that the typical production cycle of sperm is around 70 – 90 days. For some reason it takes a little longer for the effects of Covid to clear from the body and normal sperm production to resume.

The other area of concern that is still being researched is the production of anti-sperm antibodies and the effect the virus has on the hormonal balance of the body. It seems though that this is an area that still needs considerable research.

What should you do?

It’s not all bad news, the good news is that men are constantly producing fresh sperm so any damage is hopefully only temporary.

If you have been affected by the virus you should give yourself time to recover and replenish your stores of healthier sperm, whilst clearing out the old damaged stuff. As the research shows this could take up to 120 days so if you have the time to wait this would be a good option.

The best way to improve sperm quality is to concentrate on things like diet, lifestyle, stress and exercise. Eating well, taking the right supplements and keeping hydrated are all key to improving your sperm health.

Foods rich in antioxidants can help to combat the damaging effects of free radicals. A diet high in good quality fruit, vegetables and unprocessed meat is essential, because of their antioxidant elements and their high content of vitamins and minerals.

Get checked out

If you’re particularly concerned, then book yourself in for a male fertility assessment. It would be worth any man who’s trying to conceive and had Covid to consider getting a semen analysis, oxidative stress test and DNA fragmentation test once he’s recovered from the virus just to be sure there’s been no lasting change. And remember even those who’ve had mild symptoms can still be affected.

The important thing is to actually take action and speak to someone if you’re worried. Don’t assume all is ok only to find out later when it’s too late.

To find a Urologist / andrologist head to our support page and follow the link to BAUS.

Research articles