When COVID-19 took the world by storm in early 2020, scientists immediately began working diligently to understand the disease and its short- and long-term effects on overall health.
Although there is more to learn, early studies have shown that approximately 30% of COVID-19 patients will continue to experience symptoms after they have recovered. Symptoms for long-COVID can include a wide range of ongoing health problems that can last weeks, months, or years. Researchers at University of Utah Health and around the world are continuing to investigate other ways that COVID-19 can impact patients long-term—namely, erectile dysfunction in men.
Jim Hotaling, MD, MS, a leading expert in male infertility in the Intermountain West and director of the Men's Health Clinic at University of Utah Health, published a paper—the first of its kind—that explored whether the COVID-19 virus ends up in semen.
"We found that the virus isn't showing up in semen," Hotaling says. "There are more studies being done across the country, and so far, the results are the same."
And although the research doesn't show that COVID-19 affects the testes or sperm long-term, it is important to remember than certain illnesses can impact sperm count in the short-term.
"Generally speaking, when men recover from COVID-19, their sperm counts and hormone levels all seem to be normal," Hotaling explains. "The only caveat here is that any illness that carries a fever impacts sperm count for 60 to 70 days."
Although some online articles assert that COVID-19 does in fact cause erectile dysfunction, Hotaling offers a word of caution and advice when considering the data.
"There are some studies being done with very small sample sizes," he says. "So, while these may show a correlation between COVID-19 and erectile dysfunction, it's important to look at all variables before coming to a conclusion."
And one important variable in the fight for more information on COVID-19 is one that can't be rushed: time. Hotaling and his team intend to take advantage of every minute to help find more answers.
"There are plans to keep going with research on this topic, and we also want to see if there are any consequences for the offspring of men who had COVID-19," Hotaling says. "I'm excited to continue finding answers for patients across the country and world."