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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 April, 2003, 23:24 GMT 00:24 UK
'Sperm washing' hope for HIV patients
Semen can harbour HIV
HIV-positive men who underwent a "sperm washing" treatment have fathered children without risking their partner's health.

Having sex without protection in order to conceive a child would be considered too risky by many HIV-positive men, as their semen can harbour the virus.

Approximately 1,000 diagnoses of HIV involving heterosexual patients are made each year in the UK.

Clear surface

One of the only techniques which can be offered to men is "sperm washing", in which individual sperm are removed from the semen then used in insemination.

The sperm themselves are not thought to carry HIV on their surface.

However, there are still lingering doubts about the safety of the procedure.

The latest research, carried out by doctors at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, will prove reassuring to couples considering whether or not to go ahead.

Out of 53 couples taking part in the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital programme, a third were able to conceive a child using the method.

There were no instances in which HIV was present in the sperm sample following the washing treatment.

Risk reduction

Dr Carole Gilling-Smith, who led the research team, told the BBC: "Nothing is 100% safe in life. What we try to do is reduce that risk.

"Until this was available, couples had no option but to risk unprotected sex, or to resort to donor sperm - or to live a life without children."

She said that the procedure should be available on the NHS because, unlike standard fertility treatments, this was aimed at lowering the risk of either mother or unborn child getting HIV, which would add to the burden on the NHS.

"The government needs to support this, not only because every child born HIV negative means huge cost savings in medication.

"Forty per cent of our patients cannot go ahead with this treatment because of funding."

One woman who has managed to have a baby with her HIV-positive partner told the BBC how it had transformed her life.

She said: "I had expected to be a widow in my late 20s.

"Now I have a happy, long-lasting marriage, and the extra joy of a child.

"It helps my husband fight to live longer and stay healthier as well."

Sperm washing is not the only technique which has been suggested as a possibility for HIV-positive men.

Some scientists are investigating the possibility that sperm could be heated to 58 degrees - enough to destroy HIV - without ruining its ability to properly fertilise the egg.

The BBC's Karen Allen
"Doctors are lobbying for the NHS to foot the bill for this treatment"

Sperm heating could foil HIV
26 Jun 00  |  Health
Circumcision cuts HIV risk
09 Jun 00  |  Health

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