Pregnancy can be one of the most exciting and joyous times of a parent’s life. But as the coronavirus spreads through all communities around the country, many fertility centers have paused their treatments, putting some patients’ pregnancy dreams on hold.
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) released new guidelines for fertility treatments in March. Many patients are wondering what the new guidelines mean and when it will be safe to begin treatment again.
We spoke with Jamil Mroueh, MD, OBGYN and Reproductive Endocrinologist at Rochester Regional Health about how the coronavirus is impacting fertility treatment, what measures Rochester Regional Health is taking, and whether his team is still seeing patients.
Q: Is COVID-19 dangerous for fertility treatment patients?
As soon as the COVID-19 outbreak began, we looked at the virus’s influence on both baby and mother. Unfortunately, we still don’t have a definitive answer to whether COVID-19 is any more dangerous for patients in fertility treatment than the general population.
However, we do know that the virus presents dangers to all age groups and demographics, which is why we are taking extra precautions with our patients.
Q: What has the ASRM recommended?
The ASRM has recommended that fertility clinics stop treatments unless the patient is already in treatment or for patients who cannot afford to wait for treatment, like a patient with cancer who wants to freeze eggs or sperm before starting chemotherapy.
We have a limited number of those patients, which means the majority of our fertility patients have had their treatments put on pause until it is recommended to continue.
Q: What extra precautions are you taking?
We are currently only seeing patients who fit the criteria of either having a serious underlying health condition or are of advanced age, or those who are aware of the risks involved and would still like to go ahead with treatment.
Q: Why are you being extra cautious?
We do not know the effects of the coronavirus on a developing embryo and are concerned about developmental abnormalities. For instance, we know that chickenpox in pregnant mothers can cause skin scarring, and eye, brain, limb and gastrointestinal abnormalities.
When the H1N1 virus spread in 2009, it attacked pregnant women at a fast rate. 12% of pregnancy-related deaths were attributed to H1N1.
Since we don’t currently know the impact that the coronavirus has on unborn babies, it’s imperative to the health and safety of both baby and mother that we take extra precautions.
We are putting the safety of our patients first by pausing non-essential treatment.
Q: Will pausing treatment impact a patient’s chances of getting pregnant?
For patients under the age of 35 with no underlying health conditions, pausing treatment for up to three months will not greatly reduce the chance of getting pregnant.
Q: What is your opinion of the guidelines?
It’s a sad and unfortunate situation. We, as doctors, want to help our patients become pregnant and welcome a baby into their world. The joy it brings them is the reason why we do what we do. But the guidelines are set up to protect baby and mother.
I understand that it can be frustrating for some patients, but it’s the best way to ensure their safety. And when the guidelines are lifted, we will be able to continue treatment from where we left off.
Q: For those not in treatment, is it currently safe to try and conceive?
There have not been any recommendations against trying to conceive during the COVID-19 outbreak, but it’s a good idea to check with your OBGYN.
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