Fertility issues and IVF are stressful enough—but throw a pandemic like coronavirus (COVID-19) into the mix and it’s easy for your mind to go into an all-out tailspin. If you’re undergoing fertility treatment, you’re probably wondering things like, “should I move forward with my IVF egg retrieval?” “Is now the best time for an embryo transfer?” or “Should I freeze eggs/embryos now before waiting for things to get worse?”
Like any other part of fertility treatment or IVF, the questions about coronavirus keep coming. So, here’s what we know.
How are fertility clinics handling coronavirus?
Right now, fertility clinics (like everyone else) are looking to the Centers for Disease Control and local and state health authorities to help prevent the spread of coronavirus to fertility and IVF patients. Most likely, your clinic already has policies and guidelines in place that are aligned with the CDC’s recommendations.
Because the majority of coronavirus cases are linked to travel in areas with active outbreaks, fertility clinics are asking patients to delay IVF or other fertility treatment if you have traveled to a high risk area, been in close contact with someone who has, or are feeling sick. If any of those conditions apply to you, do us all a favor (at fertility clinics and beyond) and, per the CDC, self-quarantine for 14 days after your last known potential exposure to the virus.
Previously, the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM)’s guidance was that patients with a high likelihood of having coronavirus—symptoms present, exposure to a confirmed patient within 14 days of symptom onset, or a positive coronavirus test result—should strive to avoid a pregnancy. This included those using egg or sperm donors, gestational carriers, or proceeding with IVF transfers. If you experience symptoms of respiratory distress (common with coronavirus), anesthesia used during a retrieval cycle could suppress respirations further when your immune system may already be compromised. Moving forward with a transfer cycle could cause risk to you, clinic staff, and other patients…and is generally just not the best idea.
As of March 17, however, these recommendations have been updated to include:
- Suspending initiation of new treatment cycles, including ovulation induction, IUIs, IVF (retrievals and transfers), and non-urgent gamete cryopreservation.
- Strongly considering cancelling all embryo transfers, fresh or frozen.
- Continuing to care for patients who are currently mid-cycle or who require urgent stimulation and cryopreservation—but check with your clinic on how they are choosing to handle this.
- Suspending elective surgeries and non-urgent diagnostic procedures (we know that’s a bit vague, so check with your doctor on what falls into this category).
- Minimizing in-person interactions and increasing utilization of telehealth—meaning, you might not physically sit in your RE’s office for that next consultation, but a phone call is still fair game.
If you are using a gestational carrier and are due over the next few weeks, it is recommended that you consider a contingency plan in the event that travel restrictions prevent you from being on-site for the birth. We know—this sucks so much.
The good news? Most clinics are super equipped to handle viruses all year and won’t be shutting down entirely. They’ve got procedures in place to keep their facilities ultra-sterile to (hopefully) keep things like this under control.
Sounds like common sense, but we’re just going to say it anyway: if you’re feeling sick with a fever or have any health concerns, contact your primary care physician ASAP. For current travel advisories and up-to-date information on coronavirus, please visit the CDC’s coronavirus website.
Does coronavirus impact fertility?
Currently, there’s no data or scientific evidence to suggest that coronavirus impacts fertility. However, this is a pretty touch-and-go situation, and unfortunately, there isn’t too much data to go off of. COVID-19 is relatively new, so the CDC and other scientists will need to continue monitoring its effects upon fertility and beyond.
Same goes for pregnancy, BTW. There’s currently no data on adverse pregnancy outcomes in pregnant women with coronavirus. Pregnancy loss, including miscarriage and stillbirth, has been seen in cases of infection with other related coronaviruses (SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV) during pregnancy, and the CDC notes that high fevers during the first trimester of pregnancy can increase the risk of certain birth defects. However, at the time of publishing there have not yet been any official reports of those infected with coronavirus while pregnant passing the virus along to their newborns.
How can I steer clear of coronavirus while undergoing IVF or fertility treatment?
To prevent the spread of coronavirus while undergoing IVF or fertility treatment, take the same precautions as you would if you were just a regular, extra fertile, average Jane/Joe:
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds—we recommend singing the chorus of Lizzo’s “Good as Hell” twice over if you need a distraction. This especially counts if you’ve just gone to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing (when, honestly, you should be washing your hands anyway!).
- If you can’t get your hands on soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Cover your hands and nose with a tissue or your sleeve/elbow, NOT your hands. Take a hint from Pam from The Office and do a “vampire cough.”
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces using cleaning sprays or wipes. Think: your phone, your keyboard, doorknobs, etc.
- Avoid traveling to areas with active outbreaks of coronavirus and keep away from others who may have traveled for a minimum of 14 days.
FAQs about coronavirus and fertility or IVF
If you get sick with a fever (100.4°F/38°C or higher), cough, or have trouble breathing, head to your primary care doctor or emergency room. Just make sure you call ahead first. Tell your doctor about any recent travel and symptoms, and avoid contact with others until you know what’s going on. Be sure to update your fertility clinic as soon as possible.
If you test positive for coronavirus while undergoing IVF, we hate to break it to you, but your cycle will probably be canceled. Unfortunately, this may also be the case if you experience respiratory distress symptoms but don’t get an official diagnosis. Anesthesia during a retrieval cycle would be bad news for your already-compromised immune system, and moving forward with your cycle would pose a risk to you and others at the clinic.
Right now, there’s no scientific evidence that coronavirus has any impact upon one’s fertility. However, this—and any other long-term effect of coronavirus—is something that will continue to be monitored by the CDC. There is also currently no data that indicates impact upon babies born from pregnant women affected by coronavirus.
To prevent the spread of coronavirus while undergoing fertility treatment, wash your hands with soap frequently for 20 seconds or more, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer made with 60% alcohol or more. During coughs and sneezes, cover your hands and nose with a tissue or your sleeve, and continue to disinfect frequently used surfaces often. And of course, avoid traveling to affected areas with active outbreaks and hold off from socializing with those who have for at least 14 days.