Egg and Sperm Freezing as Fertility Benefits

The Department of Defense (DoD) announced at the end of January that it is expanding fertility benefits for active duty service members to include the cost of egg and sperm freezing. These services will be covered during a two-year pilot program designed as part of the Force of the Future Initiative, which is a move to make the military a more family friendly employer and to encourage troops, especially women, to remain enlisted. Egg and sperm freezing will only be available to active duty service members who either request the benefit or who are anticipating a deployment. Deployed service members run the risk of sustaining injuries that can reduce or eliminate their ability to father children or to carry a pregnancy to full term. According to Military Times, more than 1,300 veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffered injuries to their groin regions and genitalia that required advanced reproductive surgeries. These injuries are mostly from encounters with improvised explosive devices (IED’s) or shrapnel from explosions. “We can help our men and women preserve their ability to start a family, even if they suffer certain combat injuries,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said of the new program. The DoD already offers in vitro fertilization (IVF), artificial insemination, sperm extraction and embryo preservation at no charge to severely wounded, active duty personnel and their spouses. Neither Tricare, the military’s civilian health benefits program, nor the Department of Veterans Affairs, which provides health care to former service members with service-connected conditions, cover the cost of IVF or other advanced fertility treatments, such as egg and sperm freezing. After the two-year pilot program...

How Zika Virus Affects Pregnancy

There is a new silent threat for women who wish to become pregnant and for those who are currently pregnant. Zika virus is a member of the Flaviviridae virus family and is mainly transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, which are also known as Asian tiger mosquitoes for the distinct black and white striping found on the body of these insects. The Zika virus is in the same family as yellow fever, West Nile, chikungunya and dengue. Of these viruses, only Zika has been linked to birth defects. It is unclear at this time if Zika passes through breast milk. Zika can be transmitted sexually, although this is very rare.  Three sexually-transmitted cases of Zika have been documented thus far. CNN news articles reported that in French Polynesia in 2013, “semen and urine samples from a 44-year-old Tahitian man tested positive for Zika even when blood samples did not.” CNN reported that Colorado microbiologist Brian Foy contracted Zika after traveling to Senegal in 2008. Days after his return from Senegal, his wife was infected with the virus despite her not having left Colorado and not being exposed to a mosquito carrying the virus. The likely source of her virus was through sexual contact with her husband. A third sexually transmitted case of Zika virus occurred in February 2016 in Dallas County, Texas. Adults infected with Zika experience either no symptoms or experience the mild flu-like symptoms of joint pain, muscle pain, headache and mild fever sometimes combined with rash and/or conjunctivitis, or red eyes. These symptoms last from one week to ten days. Zika is a tropical illness that originated in Africa...

The Truth About HIV Transmission

At the end of September, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against a Subway franchise located in Sheridan, Indiana. The lawsuit alleges that employee John Doe was hired to work at the store on January 1, 2015. Twelve days later, the employee disclosed his HIV-positive status to the store manager. Doe reported to the EEOC that, on February 14, his supervisor called him at home to fire him, telling Doe he might be a liability to the company. The day after the lawsuit was filed, Indianapolis-based radio station 103.3 invited its listeners to call in during a morning show to voice their opinions over the air about the lawsuit. I listened to part of this broadcast and was blown away by some of these callers and their sheer ignorance of HIV in terms of how the virus spreads and how long the virus lives outside the body. Feeling inspired by this radio broadcast, I have created this HIV transmission fact sheet using information obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), AIDS Vancouver Island and online resources aidsmap.com and aids.gov.   There are three stages of HIV infection. The first stage is acute infection, in which large amounts of the virus are being produced in the body. Within 2 to 4 weeks of initial infection, many people develop flu-like symptoms, which is the body’s natural response to HIV infection. The second stage of HIV infection is clinical latency, in which the virus reproduces at very low levels, although it is still alive. With proper HIV treatment, people can live with clinical latency for several decades. The...

An Explanation of Chemical Abortion

Abortions are either chemical, which involves the use of medications to cause the uterus lining to shed and abortion to occur, or surgical, which involves a doctor using surgical tools inserted into the vagina and uterus to remove the fetus via outpatient surgery. Neither abortion method is without risk, although the amount of risk involved in abortion is equal to the risk involved in a colonoscopy, according to a 2014 study by the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). Women who chose chemical abortion take on more responsibility for their own care than women choosing surgical abortions because chemical abortions typically conclude at home as opposed to clinics or medical centers. It is imperative that women choosing chemical abortion be able to obtain necessary care at emergency departments or hospitals should a complication arise. Chemical abortions, also referred to as medical abortions, can only be performed during the first nine weeks of pregnancy. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit organization that has been compiling abortion statistics for decades, medical abortions accounted for one-quarter of all abortions performed before nine weeks in gestation in 2008. The two medications used during chemical abortions are mifepristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone, also known as RU-486, is a synthetic steroid that works by blocking the effects of the natural hormone progesterone which is required to maintain the lining of the uterus during pregnancy. Once the uterine lining breaks down, the lining is lost along with the developing embryo. First approved for use in France in 1988, mifepristone was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States in September 2000,...

How Stress Affects Sexual Health

When a person experiences stress, his or her body releases cortisol, a steroid hormone. Cortisol belongs to a class of hormones called glucocorticoids, which are present in almost every vertebrate animal cell, and is produced from cholesterol in the two adrenal glands located on top of each kidney. In addition to being released during times of stress, the body releases cortisol after a person wakes up and during and after exercise. Cortisol and the hormone epinephrine, which is also known as adrenaline, work together in “fight-or-flight” responses. After an individual is faced with stress, the adrenals secrete cortisol, which in turn floods the body with glucose (a simple sugar used as a source of energy in living organisms) that supplies immediate energy to large muscles. Cortisol causes this glucose release when it taps into protein stores in the liver. Cortisol’s focus is on supplying the body with glucose for quick energy which is why cortisol blocks insulin production as well. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that regulates the amount of glucose in the blood. Lack of insulin causes a form of diabetes. As cortisol narrows the arteries, epinephrine increases heart rate. Both of these occurrences force blood to pump harder and faster through the body. Once the stressful situation is resolved, hormone levels return to normal. All this sounds very simple in theory, but many health experts theorize that our fast-paced lifestyles with ever-present stress causes our bodies to pump out cortisol almost constantly, which can have a negative impact on our health in general and on our sexual health in particular. Since cortisol stops the...