As the Zika virus continues to scare the shit out of everyone, fertility clinics and sperm banks are trying to adopt safety measures to keep infected sperm out of their supply. Although Zika is primarily spread through mosquito bites, it can also be sexually transmitted and through blood transfusions.
The World Health Organization declared Zika an international public health emergency on Monday; it’s believed to cause microcephaly, abnormal smallness of the head combined with brain damage. Women in El Salvador have been advised to avoid getting pregnant until 2018.
About 30 cases of Zika have been reported in the United States, including one believed to have been sexually transmitted, in Dallas County, Texas. Now, as USA Today reports, sperm banks and fertility clinics in the United States are trying to figure out how to keep their semen Zika-free, given that there are no commercial tests that can spot the virus. It’s also unclear how long it can survive in sperm, or whether it could be present in the semen of men with no symptoms.
The best practices, then, aren’t totally clear, but American organizations have begun adopting a few they hope might help. From USA Today:
The CDC has recommended that pregnant women postpone travel to places affected by Zika and to abstain from sex or use condoms if their “male sexual partner has traveled to or lives in an area with active Zika virus transmission.”
AABB, formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks, recommended Monday that blood suppliers ask people to postpone donating blood for 28 days if they have traveled to a country with a Zika outbreak. The American Red Cross has adopted that recommendation.
Many sperm banks already recommend a six-month quarantine in which they keep samples frozen to make sure they’re disease-free. The British Fertility Society has guidelines too, saying anyone who’s traveled to an area where Zika is present shouldn’t try to conceive naturally, undergo fertility treatments, or donate gametes for 28 days.
It’s not just human sperm that’s getting a close look: the United Nations says they’re also ready to irradiate male mosquitoes in Brazil to sterilize them. There are more than 4,000 suspected and 400 confirmed Zika cases there. The mosquitoes would be zapped in a lab, then released into the wild to help reduce the overall population, a process which would take several months.
Mosquitoes waiting to be tested for various diseases perch inside a container at the Gorgas Memorial Laboratory in Panama City, Thursday, February 4, 2016. Photo via AP Images