Zika is notorious for devastating parents. The virus seized worldwide attention last year by mercilessly causing birth defects, leaving thousands of babies with malformed brains. But the insidious virus may have another, subtler way of terrorizing families: wreaking havoc on the male reproductive system.
At least that’s the concern raised by a new study that finds that the virus causes severe damage to the testes of mice. In the course of a few weeks, the virus damaged reproductive tissue, spurred inflammation, hampered hormone production, shrunk testicles, and reduced sperm counts of the animals, researchers report Monday in Nature. Subsequent mating trials showed that the infected male mice had lower fertility, producing fewer pregnancies and viable offspring.
It’s unclear if the mosquito-borne Zika would cause the same injuries in men as it does in mice, the authors and other experts caution. However, the study begs for follow-up research—particularly given the fact that the virus is known to persist in men’s semen for weeks and cause pain and bleeding.