A new technique will allow couples with one HIV positive partner to have children without risk of spreading the virus to both the uninfected partner and the baby.
The procedure, known as “sperm washing,” has recently been approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is being touted as an “extra step” in a strategy to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. The technique, while simple in theory, is more tedious in practice. First, trained professionals separate the sperm from the infected cells within the seminal fluid. This is called washing. Once this is complete, the sperm can be used in conception methods, either intrauterine insemination or in vitro fertilization treatment.
Trial tests showed that, after being washed, infected sperm samples were 92 to 99 percent free of the virus. The tests also found that uninfected women who received intrauterine insemination or in vitro fertilization with washed specimen did not contract the virus. The same can be said for children conceived through these methods.
As Medical Daily notes, couples with one infected partner can still conceive through direct sexual intercourse with “viral suppression.” Basically, one must dose themselves up on several anti-HIV drugs at ovulation to slow the rate at which HIV multiplies in the body. That halts the disease from spreading.
While both options are available, medical organizations like the the British HIV Association and Children’s HIV Association recommend couples wanting to have children to now try sperm washing, as it’s believed to be the safest method to protect the uninfected female partner. In fact, it’s so effective, that previous research on the technique declared sperm washing to have zero risk of HIV transmission.
However, as with most HIV treatments, sperm washing is costly. In addition to sperm washing, couples will have to spend even more cash on HIV treatments to suppress the virus. According to the CDC, an estimated lifetime cost of treating HIV is $379,000, and nearly 30 percent of those living with the virus are uninsured.
While costs could certainly be a deterrent, there’s no denying that the procedure could help millions of HIV-positive relationships conceive without worry. In the U.S. alone, more than 1.2 million people are currently living with HIV and almost one in eight people with the virus are unaware they have it. Globally, 36.7 million are living with HIV and nearly just as many have died because of it.
However, as we’ve pointed out before, we’ve come far in the battle against HIV and AIDS. For instance, a study from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases discovered an antibody that neutralizes 98 percent of HIV strains. While there remains to be a universal cure, we are slowly chipping away at one of the most vicious and deadly viruses plaguing millions of people.