Note the italicized statement. The potential long-term effects of the virus bely the claims that the virus only affects a tiny portion of the population, especially of younger people.South Florida urologist Ranjith Ramasamy observed a disturbing trend among his patients as COVID-19 spread across the U.S. in 2020: More and more men were complaining that they couldn’t perform in the bedroom. At first Ramasamy and his colleagues at University of Miami Hospital’s urology clinic thought that the growing reports of sexual dysfunction represented a psychological issue, the result of pandemic stress. But many patients said they weren’t feeling anxious or depressed, and for some, the problem lasted six months or longer. Then the team started to suspect another underlying cause: the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.
While COVID-19 may harm the lungs, it’s a systemic disease that can also affect the heart, kidneys, brain and other organs, and those effects can last long after someone has recovered. Many people now live in a purgatorial netherworld of “long-haul COVID” that experts are calling our next national health disaster. According to an August article in the New England Journal of Medicine, 10 to 30 percent of those infected with the virus—at least 42 million cases in the U.S. and 229 million worldwide—experience ongoing debilitating symptoms that may cause “significant disability.”
Among the list of ailments, mounting evidence suggests that COVID-19 may sabotage men’s sexual health. “We found that men who hadn’t previously had these issues developed pretty severe erectile dysfunction after COVID-19 infection,” Ramasamy says. Men may be six times more likely to develop brief or long-term erectile dysfunction after contracting the virus, according to research published in March. Other studies have documented a litany of post-infection health issues that impact sex, either independently or in concert: inability to have or maintain an erection, damage to the testes, testicular pain or swelling, inability to achieve orgasm, low testosterone levels, and mental health issues. The science stands in stark contrast to anti-vaccine misinformation spreading online—including a now infamous tweet from rapper Nicki Minaj—claiming that COVID-19 vaccines cause swollen testicles and impotence. To date, no studies support that claim.
Men most at risk for severe COVID-19—older men or those with hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease—are already at high risk for sexual dysfunction. These conditions affect their hormones, muscles, blood vessels, and more. However, much younger men have also reported sexual health issues. To find out if the virus was indeed invading men’s reproductive organs, Ramasamy and his team performed biopsies on six men ages 20 to 87 who had succumbed to COVID-19. When they examined these tissue samples under an electron microscope, they discovered virus particles lurking in one man’s testicles. Half of the men also had poor sperm quality, backing up data from other small postmortem studies and raising questions about the disease’s impact on fertility.
If the virus was in the testes, Ramasamy wondered if was also present in the penis. The team investigated by studying two men who became impotent after having the virus. One of them had experienced mild symptoms; the other had been hospitalized. Convinced they would never have a natural erection again, they each came to the clinic to see if they might be candidates for penile implant surgery. The virus was indeed present in their penis tissue, which was shocking, Ramasamy says, given the time frame: It had been up to eight months since the men were first infected. The doctors also found damage to the lining of the organ’s tiny blood vessels.
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Men may be six times more likely to develop brief or long-term erectile dysfunction after contracting the [COVID] virus. The vaccine can prevent this.
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