In response to a recent spike in cases of Zika virus in the U.S., the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine (CCRM) and other fertility clinics are advising individuals who plan to become pregnant or are currently pregnant to take certain precautions to avoid transmission of the disease to their unborn children. Individuals that plan on traveling to areas currently affected by Zika virus and plan to conceive in the near future should consider egg and sperm freezing before traveling.
Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus that can cause severe, neurologic or fatal conditions to a fetus if the woman is infected during pregnancy. Zika virus can be transmitted through blood, semen of infected men, placenta and amniotic fluid, as well as the breast milk of pregnant women. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed the link between Zika and microcephaly, along with other severe, fatal brain defects. The virus is also thought to potentially be associated with other neurologic conditions such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, a serious neurologic condition that leads to paralysis.
Local outbreaks are occurring in many countries, including parts of Africa, Central and South America, and in the Pacific Islands, so CCRM is encouraging couples trying to conceive to avoid travel to these areas of the world if possible. A list of countries with current Zika transmission is available on the CDC website.
“As far as we know, the only people living on the U.S. mainland currently at risk for Zika are those traveling to affected areas or those who have had sexual intercourse with someone who has recently been in that region,” said Dr. Brian Levine, practice director for CCRM New York.
Dr. Levine recommends that all travelers should use insect repellents or oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products, which provide longer-lasting protection.
Women and men who are trying to conceive should adhere to the CDC’s following guidelines:
- Women who have Zika disease symptoms should wait at least 8 weeks after symptoms appear, and men should wait 6 months, before attempting reproduction.
- Men and women with possible exposure to, but not showing symptoms of, Zika should also wait 8 weeks.
- These same timelines should be used for sexually-intimate couples using their own gametes in fertility treatments.
- For donated reproductive tissue, FDA guidance should be followed. Currently, FDA rules a potential donor ineligible for 6 months following being diagnosed with, or having had a high probability of exposure to, the virus.
- Testing for Zika virus is complicated, not universally available, and routine serologic testing is not currently recommended.
- In areas of active Zika virus transmission, the use of contraceptive methods to prevent unintended pregnancy is essential.
- Pregnant women’s sex partners living in or returning from areas where local transmission of Zika virus occurs should wear condoms, or abstain from sex throughout the pregnancy.
Freezing of eggs /sperm
Additionally, individuals who plan to freeze eggs or sperm prior to travel/exposure must wait the time frames of eight weeks post travel or, in symptomatic males, six months post travel before attempting pregnancy.
“Many of our patients have struggled to have children and are eager to start treatment right away – encouraging them to be patient is not easy. But if they have traveled to at-risk areas or have plans to, we are cautioning them against going through treatment until the proper waiting time has passed. Successful and healthy pregnancies are always our highest priority,” says William Schoolcraft, M.D., medical director of CCRM.