Feb. 11, 2022 -- A small study of unvaccinated men who died of COVID-19 complications suggests the testes may be a sanctuary for the coronavirus, raising questions about potential consequences for reproductive health among those infected.

The study, published online Tuesday on the preprint server MedRxiv, found that "patients who become critically ill exhibit severe damages and may harbor the active virus in testes," which can "serve as a viral sanctuary." The study has not been peer reviewed.

Guilherme M.J. Costa, PhD, a professor at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Brazil, led the study.

The coronavirus is not unique in this habit. This sort of issue happens with many other viruses, Costa says.

Brian Keith McNeil, MD, with the Department of Urology at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University in New York City, says the topic of COVID-19 and fertility has been discussed but data is limited.

"The question this raises is whether or not COVID can live in the testes, and based on this it seems it can," he says, adding it also raises the question of whether COVID-19 could be transmitted through semen.

"It leads one to wonder whether this could have a long-term impact on fertility in men and women," McNeil says.

Sperm-Producing Cells Infected

In 2021, the researchers analyzed 11 male patients who died from COVID-19 complications. None had received a COVID-19 vaccine. All 11 patients had been admitted to the intensive care unit .

All but one of the patients had children and none had scrotal symptoms or complaints during their time in the hospital. Their medical histories revealed no testicular disorders.