Most people who come down with COVID-19 rebound quickly, but according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some can experience new, returning, or ongoing health issues weeks after being infected.
Those health issues can include fatigue, headache, and loss of smell or taste. Some men are also experiencing erectile dysfunction, which University of Miami researchers have concluded is another long-term outcome of COVID-19 infection.
"We've started seeing men complain of erectile dysfunction after being infected with COVID-19," says University of Miami urologist Dr. Ranjith Ramasamy. "A couple of the men had to undergo penile prostheses."
Ramasamy, one of the authors of a study recently published in the World Journal of Men's Health
, says that during surgery, which took place seven to nine months after the initial infection, researchers obtained tissue for testing and found that the virus is still present in penile tissue after all that time.
"The COVID virus is present in the endothelial cells, which supply blood to the penis," Ramasamy explains. "We think the virus is affecting blood flow to the penis, causing erectile dysfunction."
Ramasamy says the published study shows that COVID-19 can cause dysfunction of endothelial cells in the lungs, heart, kidneys, and other vital organs. But it goes beyond that. The research also found that men who had no medical history that would contribute to ED and who never previously suffered from the issue developed the condition after infection with COVID-19.
"We're seeing some pretty severe cases," he says.
For the study, Ramasamy and other researchers collected penile tissue from two men with a history of COVID-19 infection seven to nine months prior and tissue from two men with no history of the virus. One of the men with a COVID history required hospitalization, and the other had a mild case.
"Both men had 'normal erectile function' without the use of medications prior to their COVID infections," the study says.
The patients in the study ranged in age from 65 to 71 and were all Latinos, but Ramasamy says he has seen patients as young as 40 suffering from post-COVID erectile dysfunction.
Viral particles were found in the tissue of the previously COVID-positive men, and none were found in the tissue of the men with no COVID history. The study concludes that the virus is present in penises "long after initial infection" and damages the endothelial cells.
"Vascular integrity is necessary for erectile function, and endothelial damage associated with COVID-19 is likely to affect the penile vascular flow, resulting in impaired erectile function," the researchers found.
This is all the more reason for men to take care of themselves and take the necessary precautions to avoid getting sick with COVID-19, Ramasamy says. Especially because he believes erectile dysfunction as a result of the coronavirus can be permanent.
"Even further, men should try and get vaccinated," Ramasamy adds.
Ramasamy says it's important for men to heed of any signs of ED post-COVID and to seek help from a doctor to discuss treatment options.
"They should think this is temporary or it's because of lockdown," Ramasamy says. "There could be an actual organic cause. They shouldn't think it'll go away on its own."