The laboratory team here at Pacific Fertility Center tested the over the counter Male Fertility Test from Baby Start. The test, also marketed by Embryotech as “FertilMARQ”, comes with everything needed to test two separate semen samples. We found the instructions easy to follow and we used semen samples from several men to run our tests on the kits.
The kit is FDA approved and readily available from major drugstores and through the Internet. It claims to tell you if you have a normal sperm count, which according to the World Health Organization (WHO) is having > 20 million sperm per milliliter of semen. The test does not measure any other parameters of the semen sample such as sperm motility (how many are swimming) or sperm morphology (size and shape).
We ran the test multiple times using kits that the manufacturer had supplied and asked us to test. We used a variety of semen samples with different sperm counts.
The kit contains a small test strip with 4 “wells” labeled A through D, and it looks similar to a home pregnancy or ovulation predictor test. Two of the wells (A and C) are controls and are a blue green color. The other 2 wells (B and D) are used for testing the semen samples and these change color depending on how many sperm are in the test sample. If the color is as dark as or darker than the control well, you have sperm. If the color is lighter than the control well, you have little or no sperm.
To perform a test, a fresh semen sample is collected either into the supplied cup or condom. If collected with the condom, this is simply emptied into the cup, which contains some small flakes of a dried enzyme. The enzyme helps to liquefy the sample over a period of at least 15 minutes and then the semen is ready to be tested. One drop of semen is added to a test well, followed by 2 drops of “blue solution” 1 minute later. After another minute, 2 drops of “clear solution” are added to the test well. The color of the test well is then compared to the control to determine if normal sperm numbers are present in the sample.
The kit comes with everything that is needed to perform the tests. All you will need to supply is a clock or timer. The instructions are clear and simple with helpful diagrams for guidance. The rules for when you should test are acceptable: no more than 3 days since your last ejaculation before you run the first test, and 3-7 days abstinence before running the second test. The instructions also contain common questions, with answers that might arise when you are doing the test. We also found a good and helpful frequently asked question page at http://www.webwomb.com/fertilmarq_faq.htm.
In our trials, the test easily distinguished between samples with normal sperm counts and those with little or no sperm. Clear positive results were obtained with sperm counts of 99, 73.5 and 32.6 million sperm/ml. Clear negatives were obtained with samples that we counted as 0, 3 and 4.4 million sperm/ml.
Only when we analyzed samples close to the test threshold did we find any discrepancies (a sample counted at 18 million sperm/ml came up positive).
The kit is no substitute for testing in a clinical laboratory. The main shortcomings are that the test only looks at sperm number and not other parameters in the semen sample that are equally important for fertility diagnosis and treatment. If you have sperm, but they are not swimming, you would pass this test. Also, individuals with sperm counts that are slightly below normal can pass the test perhaps giving certain men a false sense of security. For these reasons, your fertility physician may order a more detailed sperm analysis.
In general, the test is easy to perform, readily available and inexpensive. The test kits that we received were part of a batch being shipped overseas, perhaps to a location where good clinical testing is not as accessible as it is in the US. And men that are too shy or embarrassed to go to their doctor for a semen analysis now have a better alternative.
Two of the wells (A and C) are controls and are a light blue green color. The other 2 wells (B and D) are used for testing the semen. Wells B and D change color depending on how many sperm are in the test sample. If the color is as dark as or darker than the control well, you have sperm.
-- Joe Conaghan, PhD