AIDS Advance: Vaginal Gel Prevents HIV Infection

For the first time, a vaginal gel shows promise in thwarting HIV transmission.

ByABC News
July 19, 2010, 2:33 PM

July 19, 2010— -- VIENNA -- For the first time, a microbicide gel -- intended to be used by women during sex -- has been shown to help prevent HIV infection.

In a randomized controlled trial, a gel containing the drug tenofovir (Viread) reduced the risk of women acquiring HIV by 39 percent compared with a placebo gel, according to Quarraisha Abdool Karim of the Centre for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) in Durban, South Africa.

Among women who used the gel more than 80 percent of the times they had sex, however, the risk was reduced by 54 percent, Abdool Karim said at the International AIDS Conference here and in a paper published simultaneously online in the journal Science.

That figure is comparable to the 57 percent reduction in risk seen in three major clinical trials that tested the effect of male circumcision. Moreover, the overall benefit of 39 percent is even higher than the 31 percent risk reduction reported last year to be associated with an HIV vaccine candidate.

The finding comes after years of failed efforts to create a vaginal gel that can block HIV -- something that's regarded as an important preventive tool in places where women do not have the social power to insist on condom use.

It is not the end of the search, but it is the "end of the beginning," said Mitchell Warren, executive director of the New York-based AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition.

Warren told MedPage Today the overall size of the protective effect is probably not enough to put a product forward for licensing and general use, but it is enough to show that a microbicide gel can be made to work.

It's a "thrilling moment," he said.

The protective effect, Abdool Karim and colleagues found, was evident regardless of sexual behavior, condom use, herpes simplex type 2 virus infection, or differences between urban and rural women.

At the same time, they found the topical gel was safe, with the overall rate and type of adverse events comparable to placebo -- although those using the tenofovir gel had an increased incidence of mild diarrhea.