Sperm washing is a process, which has been developed for couples who wish to have a child, where the male is HIV-positive and the female is HIV-negative. The procedure reduces the risk of HIV transmission to the female partner and subsequently the unborn child.
Sperm washing rests on the premise that HIV infected material is carried primarily in the seminal fluid rather than in the sperm itself. There remains a very small theoretical risk to the woman of HIV transmission. Sperm washing is safer than having unprotected sex, but if a couple is certain that they don’t want to take any risk, no matter how minimal, sperm washing would not be a suitable method for them. These couples may prefer to find out more about artificial insemination by donor, which is a risk free alternative.
A couple’s first step on this programme is to visit our counselor, (both individually and as a couple) to get further information and support, and to explore some of the issues involved. Deciding to embark on this treatment may not be a easy decision. Although the risk of the female partner becoming infected is minimal, it still exists, and for one or both partners it may be felt that this risk is too much. There is also an opportunity to discuss issues concerning parenting itself and facing the reality that treatment does not guarantee pregnancy.
During the first visit, couples will also need to have a full sexual health screen, which includes an HIV test for both partners. Over the following few weeks, tests including various blood tests along with an ultra-sound scan and an x-ray for the female partner, and a semen analysis for the male partner will be performed. These tests indicate whether insemination would be a realistic option. If either partner was to have sub-optimal fertility, IVF may be a consideration after all avenues have been explored. All preliminary investigations and appointments can take two to three months.