By Raya Bidshahri
The Zika virus has been spreading through Brazil, and more and more babies are being born with abnormally small heads and serious birth defects. The virus is transmitted primarily though mosquito bites, but it can also be spread sexually and through blood transfusions. As a result, authorities in the region are taking drastic measures to contain the virus until a vaccine and better screening procedures can be developed.
Until such a time, different countries have started adopting policies aimed to keeping the virus out of sperm banks. One major sperm bank, California Cryobrank, has announced that it will no longer accept sperm donations from men who have traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks in the past month or have had sex with someone who has traveled to one of these countries within the past month. The British Fertility Society has also recommended that individuals who have traveled in areas with Zika virus outbreaks should not try to conceive naturally, donate sperm or eggs, or undergo fertility treatments for at least 28 days (which is how long the virus is thought to stay in the blood after a person is bitten). Various blood suppliers are asking people to postpone donating blood for 28 days if they have traveled to a country with an outbreak.
Many other measures are being pursued to prevent further spread of the virus. The WHO has posted a warning issued by the US Center for Disease Control, which calls for pregnant women to avoid regions where the virus has been found. El Salvador’s Deputy Minister of Health suggested that “women of fertile age take measures to plan their pregnancies and avoid getting pregnant in the next year and a half.” Organ transplant centers have been asked to balance the risk of spreading the Zika infection against the potential benefits of procuring an organ for someone who needs a transplant. According to the WHO, the virus will likely to spread to all the countries in the Americas, except Canada and Chile.
There remain many unanswered questions about the nature and spread of Zika. According to Harvey Stern, medical director at Fairfax Cryobank, clinics will need to revise their policies as researchers learn more about the virus.
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