CDC approves 'sperm washing' for HIV-positive men who want to father children

The CDC endorsed the use of a processing technique for the semen of HIV-positive men for the purpose of artificial insemination, according to the agency's most recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

 The new report marks the first time the agency has backed sperm washing as a viable and safe conception technique for these HIV-discordant couples. The approval represents a reversal on a recommendation that has stood for more than two decades. Previously, the agency had endorsed conception among couples with HIV-positive men and HIV-negative women when both parties used antiretroviral drugs to prevent viral transmission.

Sperm washing has been in practice for more than 20 years and has been endorsed by other medical associations, according to a report from ABC News. The process involves the isolation of sperm from semen and the separation of the sperm from lymphocytes, which serve as a reservoir for viruses in semen.

After reviewing reports on 11,500 assisted conception cycles that used the sperm washing technique, during which no woman or offspring contracted HIV, the CDC determined the process was safe enough to endorse. 

"Insemination with sperm from a donor who does not have HIV infection is the safest option for an HIV-uninfected woman with an HIV-infected male partner to conceive," concluded the CDC researchers. "However, current evidence suggests that the risk for transmission from an HIV-infected male partner to an HIV-uninfected female partner is low if appropriate risk-reduction strategies are implemented. As data regarding the safety and effectiveness of semen processing emerges, the risk profile for each treatment option will be further defined."

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