Walgreen's Helps Make Fertility a Men's Issue, Too

Walgreen's will sell you a home sperm count test
Walgreen's will sell you a home sperm count test

Walgreen's (WAG) drugstores already sell more than two dozen kinds of female fertility tests. But for men -- not a one.

That's about to change. Bloomberg reports that Walgreen's plans to start selling fertility tests for men at all of its 7,800 locations. Walgreen's and CVS Caremark (CVS) already offer the product, called SpermCheck Fertility, online.

"In our society, the woman carries the burden of trying to determine the issues surrounding infertility," said Ray Lopez, CEO of ContraVac, the sperm test's maker, in an interview with Bloomberg. "Men don't say, 'Let me go to the urologist and give a semen sample.'"

That reluctance to visit a doctor, Lopez said, creates what he described as an annual market of $440 million for male fertility tests in the U.S. -- and Walgreen intends to cash in. The SpermCheck retails for $40.

Walgreen's will sell you a home sperm count test
Walgreen's will sell you a home sperm count test

The test, which comes in a blue-and-gold box depicting a happy couple with their baby -- potentially a painful image, depending on the result -- requires a man to mix his semen with a bottled solution. Drops of the resultant fluid are then placed on a test strip, which changes color to indicate fertility. A reddish line means a normal sperm count (at least 20 million per milliliter of semen); no change means a lower-than-normal count. The test's instructions say that men "should consult a physician about a complete fertility evaluation" in the event of a negative reading.

"There is nothing like it on the shelf," enthused Maeve Egner, a marketing consultant hired to help hawk the test, which was nearly 30 years in the making. "It's plugging a gap."

The test was invented by John Herr, 63, who directs the University of Virginia's Center for Research in Contraceptive and Reproductive Heath, and is majority owner of ContraVac. Food and Drug Administration approval for SpermCheck came in 2010.

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Dr. Larry Lipschultz, a urologist in Houston who heads the Division of Male Reproductive Medicine and Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, questioned the value of the product. Lipschultz said (perhaps predictably) that the home test was inferior to a complete semen analysis performed in a doctor's office. "If the sperm count is OK but the motility, how well they're moving, is bad, those sperm aren't going to fertilize well," Lipshultz told Bloomberg. A semen analysis by Lipshultz's practice is more expensive than SpermCheck Fertility -- it'll set you back $100 -- but of course, it's more comprehensive as well.

Brian Murphy, a partner at Urologic Associates of Allentown, Pa., mentioned two other important metrics ignored by SpermCheck that a professional assay will determine: total volume (usually three to five milliliters) and morphology, or how the sperm are shaped (are they normally formed or not). Like Lipshultz, Murphy was skeptical of SpermCheck's value.

"These colorimetric things are probably perfect for Walgreen's to make money on, but they're probably very rough approximations that don't tell you very much," he told DailyFinance. Murphy added that some people get pregnant by partners with sperm counts of 10 million per milliliter or less, so the lack of a red-line on a SpermCheck test is not a final verdict on fertility.

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