Spermicide May Increase Risk of AIDS

ByABC News
July 12, 2000, 5:13 PM

D U R B A N, South Africa, July 12 -- The widely used spermicidenonoxynol-9, long recommended as a way to stop the spread of AIDS,may actually increase the risk of catching the virus, at leastamong women who use it frequently, according to the surprisingfindings of a large study.

As a result, health officials said condoms used solely toprevent disease should not be coated with nonoxynol-9, although acondom with the spermicide is certainly safer than no condom atall. And they said the spermicide should also not be used for birthcontrol by anyone at high risk of catching HIV.

Nonoxynol-9 is widely used around the world for contraception,and about one-third of lubricated condoms sold in the United Statesare covered with it. Nonoxynol-9 is a detergent formulated to killsperm, but in the test tube it also wipes out HIV, and many havelong assumed it helps protect people from the virus.

However, a study on prostitutes released today at the 13thInternational AIDS Conference showed just the opposite: Women usinga nonoxynol-9 gel increased their risk of contracting HIV ratherthan lowering it.

Repercussions Expected

It is an understatement to say that we were extremelydisappointed, said Dr. Lut Van Damme of the Institute of TropicalMedicine in Antwerp, the studys director.

The researchers now assume that nonoxynol-9, or N-9, increasesthe risk by irritating the vaginal lining, causing tears that givethe virus a way to enter the body.

The prostitutes in the study applied N-9 up to 20 times a day,and there is no evidence that women who use it once or twice a dayincrease their risk of HIV. Nevertheless, Van Damme recommendedthat N-9s long-term safety as a contraceptive be re-evaluated.

Study Used Almost 1,000 Prostitutes

The study began in 1996 on 990 prostitutes in South Africa,Benin, Thailand and Ivory Coast. They were randomly given either anN-9 gel called Advantage-S or a similar-looking but inactivevaginal moisturizer. The women were also urged to use condoms andgiven a free supply.