A vaginal gel that was originally created to protect against the AIDS virus in women showed bonus results when it proved even more effective in fighting the genital herpes virus, according to a new study from researchers at the National Institutes of Health, Gilead Sciences Inc. and universities in Belgium and Italy.
The New York Times reported that the microbicide gel reduced the risk of herpes infection among the 450 women by 51 percent. The gel also reduced the risk of AIDS in healthy women by 39 percent. Given the prevalence of herpes and HIV around the world, doctors believe the surprising results could be an important advance in treatment and protection.
“This could be incredibly helpful,” Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, a herpes expert at the University of Washington’s medical school, told the New York Times. ”Protection that a woman can control is the holy grail in this field. It’s hard for me to believe that something that protects against both HIV and herpes wouldn’t be appealing to a lot of young American women.”
But the gel would still take years to get to the consumer market, researchers say.
Genital herpes is not fatal, but it is painful and stamped with a heavy social stigma. About 20 percent of of sexually active adults worldwide have genital herpes, according to the World Health Organization and reported in the New York Times. It can be spread through skin-to-skin contact during sex, along with vaginal fluids and semen, even if neither partner shows the tell-tale sores.
The unexpected reduced risk of the herpes infection came from a 2010 trial conducted in South Africa, which found that the gel reduced the risk of AIDS infection by 39 percent.
“The tenofovir trial is being repeated to ensure that the results regarding HIV protection are real and are generalizable,” Justin O’Hagen, an infectious disease epidemiology doctoral student at Harvard School of Public Health, told ABCNews.com. Tenovir, made by Gilead — which participated in the microbicide study — is used in tandem with other antiviral meds to fight HIV. ”Undoubtedly they will also collect further data on tenofovir’s effect on herpes so there will be even more publications on this, roughly in early 2013.”