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Study: Zika Causes Fertility Problems In Male Mice

The Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that can spread Zika are native to Florida.

South Floridians have one more reason to avoid the Zika virus—and this one’s especially for men. New research using mice shows the virus can shrink testicles.

The researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri didn’t start by looking for Zika’s effect on mouse gonads, said Dr. Jen Govero, a scientist who worked on the study.

“We started looking at the placental barrier and seeing if the virus could cross there,” Govero said.

Scientists say that part of what makes Zika unusual is its ability to get past what are known as “immune privilege sites.” These are places in the body that act as natural roadblocks to most viruses, such as the placental barrier, the blood-brain barrier, and the blood-testes barrier.

“The body tries and protects more against viral and bacterial infection, because there’s precious cargo there,” explains Govero.

However, the Zika virus is managing to break through all these safeguards. In the mice, Zika infection decreased testes to a tenth of the average size, testosterone dropped, and the virus showed up in sperm samples.

“This, I think, will be an eye-opener to also look at the effects this could have on men and their fertility,” said Govero, but she adds it could be months or years before researchers know exactly what this means for humans.

In the meantime, it’s one more reason for men to pay attention to mosquito prevention tips, like wearing long sleeves and bug repellent.


WLRN is a partner with Health News Florida, a statewide collaborative reporting on health care.

Health reporting on WMFE is supported in part by AdventHealth.

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