It seems every time we think we know all the terrifying health effects of the Zika virus, new research shows it’s even worse than previously believed. A new study from the University of Washington, published in the journal Nature, has found that mice infected with Zika experience shrunken testicles, low testosterone, and low sperm counts — and so far, no one is sure if it could have the same effect in humans.

Dr. Michael Diamond, co-author of the study, told The Telegraph, “While our study was in mice, and with the caveat that we don’t yet know whether Zika has the same effect in men, it does suggest that men might face low testosterone levels and low sperm counts after Zika infection, affecting their fertility. We don’t know for certain if the damage is irreversible, but I expect so, because the cells that hold the internal structure in place have been infected and destroyed.”

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The most worrying implication of this new study is the fact that many affected men may not realize the disease has left them infertile until years later. There have already been reports of men with the disease experiencing pelvic pain and bloody urine – symptoms Zika shares in common with other sexually transmitted infections. While doctors have been aware the virus can pass through the reproductive organs, this is the first time researchers have suggested that process might be damaging.

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Related: Experimental Zika vaccine to be tested on humans for the first time

This is the first study of its kind linking Zika to male infertility. In the past, it was believed to be mostly dangerous to pregnant women, whose children were at risk of severe birth defects like microcephaly. In rare cases, the mosquito-transmitted infection could also cause Guillain-Barre syndrome, a condition which can lead to paralysis and death. Men potentially exposed to the disease are currently being told to use condoms for six months, and women in Zika-affected areas are being told to delay pregnancy if possible.

+ Nature

Via The Telegraph

Images via Wikimedia Commons and University of Washington