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“Semen Washing” Helps Couples Get Pregnant

By on March 24, 2011

What if you and your female partner were trying to conceive? What if she were HIV negative and you were HIV positive? The options narrow quite a bit. Now a review of past research on the topic indicates that fertility treatments can be done safely and effectively in couples where the man is infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and the woman is not. Sounds like a breakthrough! 

A method known as “semen washing” has been improved over the last two decades as unwashed semen could pass HIV to the woman or their baby.

“I think the procedure is getting safer and safer,” said Dr. Deborah Anderson, a scientist at the Boston University School of Medicine who studies HIV. She was not involved in the current research, but she shared that washing the man’s semen lowers the risk of transmission enough that “it’s an acceptable … procedure for couples that really want to have children.”

In the new review, published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, researchers from the Evandro Chagas Clinical Research Institute in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil looked at 17 earlier studies involving a total of about 1,800 couples in which only the male partner had HIV.  About a third of the women had a procedure in which a single sperm is injected into a single egg; then the fertilized egg is placed into the woman’s womb. This kind of fertility treatment is assumed to be safer for couples in which the male partner has HIV because it is easier to ensure that the sperm being used does not have the HIV virus.

The rest of the women had sperm injected directly into the womb, when their eggs were most likely to be there. Roughly half the women became pregnant, and about 80 to 85 percent of the pregnancies resulted in the birth of a baby. It should be noted that none of the women in the study, or babies that were born after fertility treatments, tested positive for HIV. However, in a few of the studies in which researchers tested semen after it was washed, between two and eight of every 100 samples tested positive for HIV – indicating that it still may be possible, if unlikely, for the virus to be passed either to the woman or to the fetus.

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