Doctor: Men should freeze sperm before traveling to Zika-infected areas

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Christen Geron has known since she was young that getting pregnant -- and staying pregnant -- would be tough.

"You think maybe, maybe today I'll make it the whole day without losing the baby," said Geron.

The 33-year-old has been receiving in-vitro fertilization treatments since 2012.

"We have lost some, we have, but we're very fortunate to have the babies that we have," Geron said.

She is fortunate.

With one baby girl, Geron is pregnant with another child and has frozen an embryo for the future at Houston's Center of Reproductive medicine. Still, Geron says you work this hard for a pregnancy, you don't want to ever chance the health of the child.

Sitting in the fertility clinic with her hands over her bulging belly, her struggles with fertility have recently turned into worries about Zika.

"Instead of going out the front door, I'll go through the garage to just try to avoid the swarms of mosquitoes," she said.

The worry is two-fold: how Zika could impact her current pregnancy and how it might change her chances of fertility at some point in the future.

"As we're doing their evaluation for fertility, they're saying. 'Wait a second, I've heard a lot about Zika, please tell me more about how this might affect my fertility,'" said Dr. John Crochet.

Specializing in third-party reproduction at the Center of Reproductive Medicine in the Texas Medical Center, Crochet says there are still plenty more questions than answers about Zika. However, what is known is that if a pregnant woman like Geron were to get bitten by a mosquito in a Zika-infected area, the virus could cause Microcephaly, a lifelong condition where the baby is born with an underdeveloped head and brain.

For those planning on becoming pregnant in the future, there is some good news when it comes to Zika.

"It does not have a long-lasting impact on either fertility or future pregnancies," said Crochet. Even if you do contract the Zika virus, either through sex with an infected partner, or from a mosquito bite, research shows it will not jeopardize future pregnancy plans.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say both men and women who have traveled to a Zika affected area, but have no symptoms, should wait at least eight weeks before trying to conceive.

Yet, if a man tests positive for a Zika infection, Crochet says this should put any pregnancy plans on hold -- at least for a few months.

"It can stay in the guy's system, so to speak, for up to six months, so if a man travels and is exposed and develops symptoms or tests positive, then the recommendation is that you wait six months to conceive," Crochet said.

That's why fertility specialists like Crochet are having more conversations about freezing a man's assets.

Crochet says it is a serious option for some couples that do a lot of traveling, "If the concern is through the man's side and we're having to wait six months, then that is a scenario in which freezing sperm prior to the travel of that man might be something to consider."

At this point it is not recommended that women freeze their eggs because Zika moves through the female body quicker. Yet, with still plenty of unknowns about Zika, Crochet says everyone should be talking about fertility -- not just women.

"As important as understanding what this might do for the woman, it's as equally important to understand what it does for the male partner as well," Crochet said.
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