According to the team, the study indicates that symptoms like erectile dysfunction reported by some COVID patients may be caused directly by the virus, not by inflammation or fever that often accompany the disease.
The team examined the monkeys with whole-body scans specially designed to detect sites of infection, the report said.
“The signal that jumped out at us was the complete spread through the male genital tract,” Thomas Hope, Professor of cell and developmental biology at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, was quoted as saying.
“We had no idea we would find it there,” he added.
Although the study was based on findings in just three monkeys, the findings were consistent, Hope said.
The team does not know whether the monkeys had symptoms corresponding to the viral infection of the male genital tract, such as low testosterone levels, low sperm counts, pain, or sexual dysfunction, Hope said.
Researchers from the University of Miami, last year, were the first to demonstrate that COVID-19 can be present in the penis tissue long after men recover from the infection and lead to erectile dysfunction.
The COVID-19 infection can cause widespread blood vessel dysfunction, or endothelial dysfunction, which can then contribute to erectile dysfunction, the team wrote in the World Journal of Men’s Health.
Since then, various studies have reported that about 10 to 20 percent of men infected with the coronavirus have symptoms linked to male genital tract dysfunction.
Further, men infected with the virus are three to six times as likely as others to develop erectile dysfunction, believed to be an indicator of so-called long COVID, the NYT report said.
Other viruses are also known to take a toll on fertility, Hope noted. “Mumps is most famous historically for causing sterility,” he said. “The Zika virus goes to the testes and infects the testes, and Ebola can also do that.”
He urged men to get vaccinated, and to seek a medical evaluation if they are concerned about their sexual or reproductive health, the report said.