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Erectile Dysfunction, A COVID-19 Complication? Here’s What We Know

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Claim: Some COVID-19-recovered male patients experience erectile dysfunction as a complication.

Mostly true. The Ghana Medical Association states erectile dysfunction as complaints from a lot of recovered COVID-19 male patients. This is also corroborated by research and reports from other parts of the world that attempt to prove this claim to be so. However, neither the WHO nor CDC has established the symptom to be a COVID-19 complication as yet. The Ghana Health Service is also yet to confirm and establish the correlation through extensive research.  

Full text

The conversation on recovered COVID-19 victims having possible short-term or long-term health complications has been revisited on Ghana’s media space, with a recent news report stating that some recovered COVID-19 male patients are experiencing erectile dysfunction

Interestingly, the focus of the conversation surrounding the news report this time, is not so much of whether COVID-19 patients ‘truly’ recover as it is whether this could be employed as a media gimmick to sway people from further spreading the virus and control the surge in cases. Some social media users, however, have disproved the news report by stating that they have had no such complication of an erectile dysfunction after recovery, while others have questioned why other continents have not reported on it and expressed how this is a sheer obsession of Africans with amplifying sex-related discussions.

Nonetheless, as noted by some fairly-informed commentators, erectile dysfunction as a possible COVID-19 complication is not only ‘an African thing’, neither is it the only complication that is expected to be experienced by every recovered patient.

Verification

In the Starr FM and JoyOnline news reports that have set the agenda for the conversation, the information was disclosed by the Ghana Medical Association (GMA). It is noteworthy that in the news reports, the Vice President of the GMA, Dr. Frank Serebour, stated that there are nation-wide complaints from a lot of recovered patients about experiencing post-recovery erectile dysfunction requiring attention and  treatment. 

The news reports added that further enquiries from the Ashanti Regional Director of the Ghana Health Service, Dr. Emmanuel Tenkorang, also shows that the correlation between erectile dysfunction and COVID-19 pertaining to Ghana is yet to be confirmed and established through research and empirical data.

Notwithstanding, research and reports from across the world show that medical professionals are facing similar observations of erectile dysfunction as a possible COVID-19 complication.

For example, in a NBC LX news report in Chicago, United States, which was also similarly reported by DW in Germany, an infectious disease expert, Dr. Dena Grayson, cautioned on how a mild case of the virus has potential of causing long-term complications including erectile dysfunction. She explained that this is because the virus affects tissues in the vasculature.

Similarly, the reports showed that the link between COVID-19 and the male reproductive system may be caused by the damage to the vascular and respiratory systems of COVID-19 patients.

Furthermore, a study, ‘Addressing male sexual and reproductive health in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak’, published in 2020 in the Journal of Endocrinological Investigation, found evidence of the potential of the onset of Erectile Dysfunction as a COVID-19 complication by reviewing several similar studies conducted on male COVID-19 recovered patients in the United States, Asia, and Europe. 

The study explained this as follows:

“It is well established that ACE2 is the entry point for the SARS-CoV-2 in host cells. In males, adult Leydig cells express this enzyme, therefore, suggesting that testicular damage can occur following infection . Testicular damage in COVID-19 might, therefore, induce a state of hypogonadism as proven by decreased testosterone-to-LH ratio in patients with COVID-19, suggestive of impaired steroidogenesis resulting from subclinical testicular dysfunction. Post-mortem examinations of testicular tissue from 12 COVID-19 patients showed significantly reduced Leydig cells, as well as edema and inflammation in the interstitium. A recent report on 31 male COVID-19 patients in Italy identified that some patients developed hypergonadotropic hypogonadism following the onset of the disease. In the same study, lower levels of serum testosterone (total and free) acted as predictors of poor prognosis in SARS-CoV-2 men. Whether this state of hypogonadism is permanent or temporary is a question so far left unanswered. Testosterone acts as a modulator for endothelial function and suppresses inflammation by increasing levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines (such as IL-10) and reducing levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as TNF-α, IL-6 and IL-1β. It can, therefore, be hypothesized that suppression of testosterone levels might be one of the reasons for the large difference in terms of mortality and hospitalization rate between males and females and might also explain why SARS-CoV-2 most commonly infects old men

Consequently, the study recommended the need for assessment and treatment to be followed up on this finding. 

Photo Source: NCBI

However, we find that neither the World Health Organisation nor the Centre for Disease Control  has listed erectile dysfunction (or general effects on sexual reproductive system) as a confirmed COVID-19 complication as yet, in spite of evidence from available research from medical experts across the world and complaints from  many affected recovered male patients about erectile dysfunction. 

Conclusion

The claims by the Ghana Medical Association that recovered COVID-19 patients are experiencing erectile dysfunction are not unfounded. This is derived from the complaints of a lot of recovered patients across the country. Furthermore, news reports and research across the world also give evidence to link between erectile dysfunction and COVID-19 infections in males. However, the Ghana Health Service is yet to confirm and establish erectile dysfunction as a COVID-19 complication, just as the WHO or CDC has not listed erectile dysfunction as a COVID-19 complication yet. It is premature to declare this claim false or true, until there is an update from the WHO on links between Covid-19 infected males and erectile dysfunction.

Maxine Gloria Danso is a Senior Researcher with Dubawa Ghana. Maxine has previously worked as a Research Assistant engaging in some notable communication research projects in Ghana, having completed a Master of Philosophy programme in Communication Studies at the University of Ghana, with specialisation in journalism, public relations and advertising. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and French from the University of Ghana, with a University Diploma in French Studies from Université Rennes 2 in France. Maxine contributes to the team by drawing from her knowledge and research experience in media studies.

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