One more reason to get vaccinated: UF researchers find connection between COVID-19 and erectile dysfunction

UF Health COVID-19 vaccination
UF Health COVID-19 vaccination(WCJB)
Published: Dec. 22, 2021 at 12:17 PM EST
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - University of Florida researchers have found a concerning connection between COVID-19 and erectile dysfunction.

The new study shows that men who get COVID-19 are more than three times more likely to be diagnosed with erectile dysfunction than those who do not.

Researchers say the study led by University professor Joseph Katz, D.M.D., adds to the evidence that the coronavirus may impact sexual function.

The study examined the data from UF Health patients and found 146 patients were diagnosed with ED after having COVID-19. That is 4.7% of all men who tested positive for COVID-19.

The association between COVID and ED was seen after adjusting for other factors, including respiratory disease, obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and smoking.

“The receptor that the coronavirus binds to is abundant on the penis and testes. The virus can bind to those areas. And research has shown that COVID can reduce the amount of testosterone produced. The loss of testosterone has been shown to put someone at risk of having a more severe outcome from COVID-19,” Katz said.

That loss of testosterone increases the chance of ED, Katz said.

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Earlier this year, University of Miami researchers discovered parts of the coronavirus in the penis of several people who had COVID-19 and became impotent. COVID-19 damages blood vessels, and it appeared to have damaged the vessels in the penises. That impeded blood flow, impacting sexual function.

Katz’s study has a couple of limitations. Researchers used UF Health patient data that did not reveal patient identities, which allowed them to see diagnoses but not complete medical histories. They were unable to assess the severity of the patients’ COVID-19 and possibly other factors that could lead to ED.

Researchers also could only adjust for one condition at a time. For example, they could adjust for diabetes, but not diabetes and obesity.

Researchers say more study is needed.

Scientists are seeing more and more that erectile dysfunction is another symptom of long COVID.

A review published in Sexual Medicine Reviews looked at the evidence connecting sexual dysfunction and COVID-19.

“The evidence that COVID-19 infection causes or impacts ED is compelling,” according to a paper whose co-authors included researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of California, San Diego.

An associate between erectile dysfunction and COVID-19 would not be surprising, said Kevin J. Campbell, M.D., an assistant professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of urology specializing in men’s health, including ED.

Campbell did not participate in the study, but noted that viral illnesses like the flu have been linked to reduced testosterone and sexual dysfunction.

“You’ve got chronic inflammation throughout the body going on during viral infection, and getting back to your homeostasis and your normal body rhythms can take time,” he said.

Katz believes the possible association between COVID-19 and ED might be stronger than the numbers suggest since the stigma of erectile dysfunction makes men less likely to report it.

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Katz believes his study offers one more reason to get a COVID-19 vaccination.

“Sex is such an important part of life, that will hopefully make them think, “OK, maybe I should be vaccinated,’” he said.

The study was done with the assistance of researchers in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions’ department of biostatistics.

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