Yuka Hirao

Sperm Washing Is Safe Way For HIV-Positive Men To Have Kids

I remember when I first learned about HIV in my high school biology class.

We learned about all of the terrible physical side effects that come along with the disease, and our teacher added that HIV-positive men usually can't have kids without running the risk of spreading the disease to them.

Luckily, recent scientific developments have made it so that at least one of those things may not be true anymore.

The CDC has officially approved "sperm washing" as a pretty effective way for HIV-positive men to have healthy babies with HIV-free women.

What is sperm washing?

Dr. Jennifer F. Kawwass, of the CDC's Division of Reproductive Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, explains just how sperm washing works in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Basically, in order to conceive an HIV-negative child, couples with an HIV-positive male would have to undergo in vitro fertilization. But before the dad's sperm is artificially inseminated into the mom, one extra precaution would be taken in the form of "sperm washing."

During this process, sperm are removed from HIV-infected cells in the seminal fluid before the fertilization process takes place. Then, the sperm can safely be used to fertilize an egg.

After having been washed, the researchers say they found that the separated sperm was a whopping 92 to 99 percent HIV-free.

Is sperm washing just as effective when it comes to protecting your HIV-free partner?

In addition to being an extremely effective way to reduce the risk of an HIV-positive man infecting his child, sperm washing can also help keep the man's HIV-free partner from contracting the virus.

The absolute safest bet for people trying to get pregnant with HIV-positive men is for the HIV-negative woman to use a sperm donor who's also HIV-negative.

That being said, if the HIV-negative woman is choosing to have a child with the sperm of her HIV-positive partner, the CDC, the British HIV Association, and Children's HIV Association agree that using the sperm washing method, coupled with antiretroviral therapies for the man and PrEp medication for the woman, is the next best bet.

Just how safe of a bet is it? Well, some older studies have shown sperm washing to have literally no risk of HIV transmission.

How much will it cost?

As wonderful as it is, sperm washing may not be the solution for everyone, as it can be super costly depending on the sort of fertility treatment the parents-to-be decide to use.

In general, the standard HIV treatments used to suppress the virus are extremely costly. The CDC estimated in 2010 that the lifetime cost of HIV is almost $400,000 ($379,000, to be exact). To make matters worse, the CDC also reports that 30 percent of those living with the virus are uninsured.

That all being said, if you are fortunate enough to be able to afford it, sperm washing is a pretty solid development in the sexual health world that's providing HIV-positive people with safer options they wouldn't have had otherwise.

Citations: HIV-Positive Men And Pregnancy: CDC Rules 'Sperm Washing' Effective In Preventing Transmission To Baby (Medical Daily), Strategies for Preventing HIV Infection Among HIV-Uninfected Women Attempting Conception with HIV-Infected Men — United States (CDC), Safety and efficacy of sperm washing in HIV-1-serodiscordant couples where the male is infected: results from the European CREAThE network. (PubMed), HIV Cost-effectiveness (CDC)