COVID-19 and the Penis, Misinformation Investigation and the Question of Masks

male reproductive system

Although 10% to 20% of COVID-19 infections in men are associated with male genital tract dysfunction, it wasn’t known if this was related to fevers and immune issues or something else, until now. A study in monkeys found the virus infects the male genital tissues. For that and more COVID-19 news, continue reading.

COVID-19 Can Infect the Penis, Prostate and Testicles

A study out of Northwestern Medicine in rhesus macaques infected with COVID-19 found that the virus invaded cells in the prostate, vasculature of testicles, penis and testicles. They utilized a PET scan designed to follow the spread of the infection over time. The researchers were surprised by their findings.

“But the signal that jumped out at us was the complete spread through the male genital tract,” said lead investigator Thomas Hope, professor of cell and developmental biology at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine. “We had no idea we would find it there.”

He went on to say, “These results indicate that the testicular pain, erectile dysfunction, hypogonadism, reduced sperm count and quality, and decreased fertility associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection are a direct consequence of infection of cells of the male reproductive tract and not indirect mechanisms such as fever and inflammation.”

The researchers note that other severe viral diseases, including mumps, Ebola, Zika and SARS infect the male genital tract and negatively impact fertility. Mumps and male sterility are well established. Clinical data suggest 10% to 20% of COVID-19 infections in men have symptoms associated with male genital tract dysfunction.

U.S. Surgeon General Initiates Investigation into COVID-19 Misinformation

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy’s office issued a request to tech companies, health care providers and community organizations for information related to health misinformation, specifically as it relates to COVID-19. Although the initiative appears to focus on tech companies that operate social media platforms, Murthy also noted that misinformation coming from health care workers, teachers and families was equally important.

“We’ll be looking forward to whatever information they have to share,” he told CNN. “We’re certainly approaching this with an open mind. Many of the new technology platforms have also been talking about solutions that they are trying to implement, but what we want to understand is what data do they have on whether these solutions are actually working or not.”

A link on the Health and Human Services (HHS) website calls for stories and research on health misinformation.

Lilly & Incyte’s Baricitinib Cuts Risk of Death by 13%

A University of Oxford study in more than 8,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients who received Eli Lilly and Incyte’s arthritis drug baricitinib showed a 13% drop in the risk of death. In the study, 546 patients in the standard-of-care group died within 28 days, but only 513 in the baricitinib group died. All patients received a combination of dexamethasone, tocilizumab or Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir.

“This result confirms and extends earlier findings, providing greater certainty that baricitinib is beneficial and new data to guide the treatment of COVID-19 patients with a combination of drugs to dampen the immune system,” said Peter Hornby, Oxford professor and joint chief investigator.

CDC Data Indicates More than 90% of U.S. can Go Without Masks

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued data that, along with recently amended guidance, indicates more than 90% of the U.S. can forgo wearing masks. The data shows that almost everyone lives in areas classified as low to medium risk for COVID-19. The new guidance takes into account hospitalizations and hospital capacity along with case rates. The guidance didn’t change mask requirements for air travel, public transit and rail travel.

However, with vaccines still not authorized for children under five years of age, some families are expressing frustration with the masking guidance, feeling that it puts their young children at greater risk. Currently, about 20 million children in the U.S. are not eligible for vaccines. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all children under five continue to wear masks.

The Problem with Considering a 4th Booster Shot

During the spring of 2021, in the U.S., with every adult eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, more than two million people per day were getting their first shot. During the Delta surge in mid-2021 and heading into the Omicron surge in late 2021, public health experts were encouraging Americans to get a third shot of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (or a second of the Johnson & Johnson) to help immune systems battle the more infectious variants.

Now the data says fewer than 80,000 people in the U.S. are getting their first shot each day, but the rate of boosters has also dropped from one million per day to less than 140,000. There have been suggestions that, despite the current drop in infections, rates might increase in the fall, which potentially could require yet another booster shot — a fourth of the mRNA vaccines and a third of the J&J. But public health experts are concerned that should an extra shot be necessary, it will be an even tougher sell.

“I think we can expect to see less uptake of fourth doses than we saw of third doses,” said Dr. Shira Doron, an infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center. “A change in the messaging around the goal of the vaccination program would help a lot.”

Much of that messaging, Doron suggests, should revolve around what the benefit of a fourth dose would actually be, such as whether it’s needed to prevent all infections or to prevent severe disease, and who is most likely to benefit.

There are also concerns about an increasing racial disparity for the current boosters, with only 39.5% of eligible Hispanic/Latino Americans boosted and 43.8% of eligible Black Americans boosted. About 58.9% of Asian Americans have been boosted.

Ivermectin Still Accessible Via Telemedicine

Although there don’t appear to be any good clinical studies showing the benefit of ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug most commonly used in animals, in preventing COVID-19, some people still insist on using it for this reason. The FDA and CDC issued warnings against its use, although a group co-founded by critical care physician Dr. Pierre Kory, called Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance and another group, America’s Frontline Doctors, continued to promote the drug. Still, most researchers, physicians and public health experts say there’s not enough data to recommend its routine use for COVID-19, although some clinical trials are ongoing.

Some doctors and hospitals have given into pressure and lawsuits and use the drug. Now, some physician groups have partnered with telemedicine platforms and pharmacies to make the drug more easily accessible, with a telemedicine visit and cost of the prescription generally running $90 to $300.

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