A recent headline claimed coronavirus has sparked a "frenzy" at a New York City fertility clinic.
“Literally, the phone has been ringing nonstop,” the New York Post quoted Dr. Brian Levine, director of CCRM Fertility NY, as saying. "In the last five days, I’ve seen at least a 25% increase in volume of people wanting to proceed with treatment than any given time."
Is this really true? And, if so, why would that be?
And does coronavirus mean we should all be stocking up on hormone shots and getting our eggs on ice?!
We delve into the details and try to answer this question-nobody-ever--thought-they'd-be-asking...
Firstly, are clinics really getting swamped?
As well as the clinic in New York, CCRM, which says it’s been inundated with people booking in to get their eggs, embryos and sperm frozen, conversations we've had with many more clinics suggest the same. Or at least, they're getting contacted by people with a whole load of questions and concerns.
"We have definitely seen a surge of questions, fears and concerns about the Coronavirus!" - Dr Meera Shah, NOVA IVF, Mountain View, California
With the growing frenzy around the outbreak, at ELANZA, we've also been receiving lots of questions about how it may impact fertility and how the potential pandemic could influence a woman's decision to freeze eggs.
So, why would the outbreak make someone want to freeze their eggs or sperm?
The ASRM suggests that if you have any symptoms and if you're donating eggs or going through fertility treatment you should freeze all eggs or embryos and avoid an embryo transfer until you are disease-free. It also suggests women with symptoms should avoid becoming pregnant. And THIS is the thing that makes some women want to freeze their eggs now...they don't know how long Coronavirus is going to be around for, and the biological clock is ticking...
Here are 5 fairly legit reasons people are making enquiries:
1. There are unanswered questions about how the virus could impact reproductive health and fertility
Overall, so far it doesn't seem like pregnant women are affected any more than anyone else by the virus - of the handful of pregnant women infected with coronavirus so far who've given birth, all the babies seemed perfectly healthy at birth.
But the trouble is, there are, to quote someone used to having an opinion or two on global crises, known unknowns.
The CDC states that it has no reliable data on whether pregnant women with the virus are more at risk of an “adverse outcome.” As the virus is so new, nobody can really say whether there could be long-term health or developmental issues in those babies, or whether contracting the virus could have an impact on egg and sperm production in our bodies, or on early-stage pregnancy.
The risks of birth defects and miscarriage are largely unknown. Scientists are continuing to research coronavirus to determine how severe it is and how quickly it spreads, but until then, the advice is for women of child-bearing age to simply take the same precautions as anyone else to avoid catching the virus.
Read more about Coronavirus, Pregnancy and Fertility: What the Experts Say.
2. People are suddenly valuing their current health
For some women who were on the fence about egg freezing, it seems the uncertainty around the impacts of the virus has tipped the balance to decisive action.
Dr Levine told the New York Post that some women who have been calling and emailing have been telling him: “I was considering doing another cycle of egg-freezing or IVF, but I want to do it now before I get the coronavirus.”
If this seems a little dramatic, consider that the UK government is planning for up to fifth of the workforce to get sick during the epidemic.
You'll certainly never be younger than you are today, and now, perhaps, some women wonder if they'll never be healthier than they are today.
But unless you fall into a high risk category - for instance, if your immune system is compromised - the data so far suggests that even if you contract coronavirus, you are likely to only exhibit mild cold and flu-like symptoms. Serious cases requiring hospitalization are in the minority and the death rate is less than 1%. And although some people who recovered from severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) - a similar virus which swept the world in 2002 to 2003 - had long-term problems, these were problems specifically with their respiratory systems, as their lungs had been damaged.
With that said, fertility preservation is all about storing younger, healthier eggs that can be used as a back-up plan. So it's understandable that some people are being cautious and viewing things this way.
3. Quarantine, dating, and the ticking biological clock
"A new worry in the dating world: how to meet people when social distancing seems wise?" asks the Boston Globe.
Finding love in the time of Coronavirus might well prove tougher. Nearly 3,000 people are now in quarantine in New York City, whole cities in some parts of the world, such as Italy, are in lock down, and advice seems to be to stay at home and avoid public places as much as possible.
Even Tinder has warned users to maintain "social distance."
There are some reasonable concerns that if mass scale isolation and quarantine last a long time, normal social activity as we know it will suffer: including dating.
Confinement means more than just watching TV for some women: it means sitting listening to their biological clock ticking louder and louder.
Some woman are in a race against the clock. As Dr. Levine says, some women are thinking: “What if there’s a six-month quarantine, and I’m 39 and will be 40 in six months?”
4. Concerns about companies restricting egg freezing / fertility coverage
There's no denying how little we know about the effect coronavirus will have on the global economy. Stock markets have been affected, fears are spreading of an imminent recession and The New York Times recently ran a piece looking at Why the Coronavirus Could Threaten the US Economy Even More Than China's.
How the US economy holds up remains to be seen.
Even with the growing popularity of fertility treatments like egg freezing being offered as a workplace "perk,"(see this Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Your Company to Pay for Fertility Benefits, by an HR manager) there's a latent fear that coverage for this added benefit will be one of the first healthcare benefits to be dialled back.
Not only that, but with companies closing factories, canceling conferences, and laying off workers, the fear of losing your job, or even, having a job to go to, are not entirely unfounded.
Procter & Gamble and Ralph Lauren are among the companies warning that the epidemic will hurt sales because shoppers are staying home. Software and hardware companies such as Microsoft and Apple say the virus has disrupted their supply chains in Asia and forced them to shut down production, as things stand.
In our opinion, if you have coverage for treatment through your company, it's not a bad idea to further explore whether using that resource while you have it is right for you: but that's true regardless of the potential economic side-effects of a coronavirus epidemic!
5. Feeling that 'It might not be an ideal time to plan to bring a baby into the world...'
Not every woman who freezes her eggs does so because she's single or because it's entirely the wrong time to become a Mom.
For some, partnered or solo, it's more that it's not quite the right time yet.
So for some of those couples and individuals in the not-quite-yet-but-maybe stage of planning parenthood, who have been toying with the idea of trying to conceive, the potential for worldwide chaos (hey you guys: Australia is Running out of Toilet Paper) is quite a persuasive reason to delay things a little longer and see how it all pans out.
So, is coronavirus a reason to freeze your eggs?
In terms of changing up all your plans and finding money to "panic freeze" purely because of coronavirus? As things stand, there's no data to suggest that this is medically necessary, and no doctor we've spoken to would give you that advice.
But, maybe ask yourself, what kind of answer were you looking for when you came in here to read this?
If you're reading this article looking for clear reasons to support a "yes," perhaps you're looking for confirmation of a choice that deep down you've already made?
In short, if egg freezing is something you've been seriously considering doing anyway and you just haven't yet made the leap, it might be worth booking your appointment.
Not for coronavirus, but for you.