Sperm washing? Seriously? What the heck is that?
It’s all about HIV and parenthood. Many people these days are living in mixed,sero-discordant couples. One member of the couple is HIV positive, the other not.
This surprises some folks who don’t understand current HIV realities.
Antiretroviral therapy, also called ART or HAART, is highly effective in people living with HIV. People in treatment almost always see their viral levels suppressed to undetectable.
They don’t get sick. They can’t infect others.
The CDC collected the results of three different sero-discordant couples studies. They looked at thousands of couples over the course of years. Tens of thousands of individual sexual incidents without condoms or PrEP.
No HIV transmission to the negative partner.
That’s powerful information.
So long as people with HIV take their meds regularly and keep up with their blood tests, they represent little to no risk of infection.
So what’s with sperm washing and is it necessary?
The technique was pioneered in Italy years ago, long before anyone knew how effective HIV treatment was going to become.
The process involves separating sperm cells, which are not able to be infected with HIV, from seminal fluid, which does contain HIV in people who have significant viral load.
The CDC estimates that the technique is more than 97 percent effective in preventing HIV transmission if the “washed” sperm cells are used in artificial insemination.
Antiretroviral treatment is more effective than that.
Many couples are understandably nervous, however, about unprotected sex even with HAART.
Sperm washing can be used as added insurance.
The downside is that it’s very expensive. The procedure itself is technically difficult and requires procedures in laboratories with trained clinicians and technicians.
It’s an individual decision, of course, for every sero-discordant couple considering pregnancy.
HAART offers protection from infection for both mother and baby that is highly effective.
Sperm washing may add an extra level of insurance if couples wish to incur the expense.
The jury is still out as to whether that extra level is of any practical benefit.