MIAMI — Women who are considering trying to become pregnant with semen from sperm banks in the Miami-Dade County area of Florida should consider the possibility that sperm collected as far back as mid-June might be infected with the Zika virus, federal health officials said on Monday (March 13).
The officials said the new warning was driven by caution, not by any evidence of infected semen from sperm banks or of babies with Zika-linked brain damage who were conceived with donated sperm.
The officials said a recent analysis of Zika cases in Florida found some cases in which Health Department investigators could not determine the exact place infection occurred. And since Zika has been found to persist in semen for up to six months, “there is a small potential risk of Zika virus transmission associated with exposure to semen from male residents in the Florida tri-county area of Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Broward counties since June 15, 2016”, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement.
At a news briefing, Dr Peter W Marks, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Centre for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said, “When semen is donated, it can be stored frozen for significant periods of time, and that doesn’t necessarily inactivate the Zika virus.”
Dr Matthew J. Kuehnert, director of the CDC’s Office of Blood, Organ and Other Tissue Safety, said at the briefing that “there have been no suspected cases from donor semen”, but that an analysis found “cases of people who are residents of Palm Beach County and Broward County in which the exposure was uncertain”.
As a result, said Dr Denise Jamieson, the incident commander of the CDC’s Zika emergency response, “Some people in the area may have not realised they are at risk.”
Dr Jamieson said the agency was also extending the time frame of potential concern from July 29, when officials identified cases of suspected local transmission in that area of Florida, back to June 15, the date of the agency’s first Zika travel advisory regarding pregnant women. She said that since then, about 85,000 women had become pregnant in the tri-county area, including about 5,000 who might have used fertility methods like intrauterine insemination.
According to the Florida Health Department, there have been 280 cases of locally transmitted Zika infection in Florida and an additional 38 cases in which the transmission location is undetermined.
Marks said there was not yet a licensed test that the counties’ 12 sperm banks could use to detect Zika virus in semen. So, he said, “if you’re a woman who is considering using donated semen samples that have been collected during this period of time, you need to have a conversation with your provider about potential benefits and risks of using it.” THE NEW YORK TIMES