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Donated sperm in Florida counties may be infected with Zika

20 March 2017

By Annabel Slater

Appeared in BioNews 893

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has identified a potential risk of Zika virus transmission from donor sperm in the Florida tri-county area.

Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause brain abnormalities, microcephaly, and congenital Zika syndrome. Now officials have found more people in the area may have been infected by Zika than previously thought, and could have donated infected sperm.

Dr Matthew Kuehnert, director of the CDC's Office of Blood, Organ and Other Tissue Safety, said at a news 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'.

Florida's tri-county area includes Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. Miami became the first US city to experience active transmission of Zika virus in 2016, and the Florida Department of Health estimated that 280 people acquired the virus in the state, most of them in Miami-Dade County.

However, officials could not determine where infection had originated in an additional 38 cases, leading them to believe more people may have been exposed as many local residents cross county lines on a daily basis.

There are 12 sperm donor banks in the tri-county area. The FDA had previously warned sperm banks not to accept donors who have been diagnosed with Zika, or been to a Zika-endemic area in the past six months, as Zika virus can remain in semen for this duration of time. However, while blood can be easily screened for Zika, there is no straightforward test for Zika in semen, and infections can go undiagnosed because people have mild or no symptoms.

The CDC's warning extends the timeframe of potential concern from 29 July 2016, when officials first identified local transmission of Zika in that area of Florida, back to 15 June 2016, the date of the agency's first Zika travel advisory regarding pregnant women.

'When semen is donated, it can be stored frozen for significant periods of time, and that doesn't necessarily inactivate the Zika virus,' said Dr Peter Marks, director of the FDA's Centre for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

'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,' he advised.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (press release) | 13 March 2017
USA Today | 13 March 2017
WebMD | 14 March 2017
Newsweek | 14 March 2017
New York Times | 13 March 2017


27 February 2017 - by Dr Barbara Kramarz 
The Zika virus reduces the size of testes in infected mice up to 21 days after infection, according to a recent study...
07 November 2016 - by Dr Barbara Kramarz 
Zika virus causes permanent damage to the testes of male mice, reducing sperm count and sex hormone levels, according to a study...
22 August 2016 - by Arit Udoh 
The Zika virus has been detected in the semen of a man six months after the onset of infection...
13 June 2016 - by Ayala Ochert 
British athlete Greg Rutherford has frozen a sample of his sperm ahead of the Rio Olympics this summer because of concern over the Zika virus...
22 February 2016 - by Ayala Ochert 
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is recommending that people returning from Zika-virus prone areas should not try to conceive naturally, donate eggs or sperm, or proceed with fertility treatment for 28 days...

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