Freeze your sperm and beat Zika

When I heard that the athlete Greg Rutherford had decided to freeze his sperm before attending the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio, I was surprised but delighted. Here was someone taking control of his own health and protecting his future fertility in case he was infected with the Zika virus during his stay in Brazil. The British long jumper has obviously thought about it very carefully and decided to be sensible. In my opinion, anyone attending the Games should think seriously about freezing their sperm if they are a male or their eggs if they are female. There are too many unknowns about Zika to take a chance if you want to start a family.

The fact is that the Zika virus, which is linked to serious birth defects in the womb and a range of other disorders, is still poorly understood. There is a lot we don’t know. It is endemic in Brazil and the areas around the Olympic stadia and venues where it is spread by the bites of female mosquitos of the Aedes aegypti variety which also spreads Yellow Fever. We know that the virus can be sexually transmitted and it can hide out in male testes, which are immune protected so the immune system cannot attack the invaders. Similarly, it may be able to hide out in the ovaries – we just don’t know.

At the moment, the guidelines are that someone who returns from an area where Zika is prevalent should refrain from trying for a baby for at least eight weeks if they have no symptoms but a minimum of six months if they do have symptoms, which can include a fever and a red rash. However, it is possible that Zika could be present for far longer.

Freezing sperm is a quick process which costs around £150. A male client needs to have a blood test to check he is healthy and then give a sample of sperm. For a woman, the process of collecting eggs and then freezing them take a little longer and is more complex. She will need to have daily injections of Follicle Stimulating Hormone for about 10 days to promote the growth of her eggs and then we harvest them under sedation. The whole process costs approximately four to five thousand pounds. Freezing sperm and eggs means that anyone who goes to Rio and picks up the virus, and symptoms recur or they just feel unsure, can opt for treatment using their previously frozen samples.

It may be inconvenient, but I think playing it safe is the best idea when it comes to Zika and starting a family.

Dr Geetha Venkat
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