US researchers have for the first time demonstrated 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, said the researchers from the University of Miami.
Endothelial dysfunction is a condition in which the lining of the small blood vessels fails to perform all of its functions normally. As a result, the tissues supplied by those vessels could undergo damage.
The team found that Covid-19 was present in the penile tissue of both men who had been infected, but not in the men with no history of the virus. The men had been infected six and eight months prior, respectively. These men had evidence of endothelial dysfunction, while the men who had been free of the virus did not. The findings, of the pilot study, are published in the World Journal of Men’s Health.
“Our research shows that Covid-19 can cause widespread endothelial dysfunction in organ systems beyond the lungs and kidneys. The underlying endothelial dysfunction that happens because of Covid-19 can enter the endothelial cells and affect many organs, including the penis,” said Ranjith Ramasamy, Associate Professor at the varsity.
“In our pilot study, we found that men who previously did not complain of erectile dysfunction developed pretty severe erectile dysfunction after the onset of Covid-19 infection,” Ramasamy added.
The team collected penile tissue from two men with a history of Covid-19 infection who underwent penile prosthesis surgery for erectile dysfunction. One of the men was hospitalised for Covid-19, while the other patient only had mild symptoms when he contracted the virus.
The researchers also collected tissue from two additional men with no history of Covid-19 infection undergoing the same surgery for erectile dysfunction. The investigators analysed all the tissue samples for not only evidence of the virus but also endothelial dysfunction.
Similar to other Covid-19 related complications, widespread infection and subsequent endothelial dysfunction could result in erectile dysfunction, and its worsening could be due to the virus’s presence in the penile tissue itself, the researchers said.