Spermicides Fail To Thwart
HIV And Other Diseases


GENEVA (Reuters) - The World Health Organization (WHO) said Friday that spermicides used by millions of people worldwide do not provide the protection against the HIV virus and other sexually transmitted diseases previously thought.
Experts agreed that nonoxynol-9, contained in most spermicides and sometimes added to male condoms as a lubricant, may actually increase the risk of HIV infection in women having frequent sex, WHO said.
"Nonoxynol-9 clearly does not prevent HIV infection and may even favor infection if used frequently," it said, reporting on the final findings of an experts' meeting in Geneva which it cohosted last October with the Eastern Virginia Medical School.
People using it as a lubricant in anal intercourse could also be under the false impression that it offered protection against HIV infection, the United Nations agency said.
"The evidence reviewed by the experts is particularly disturbing in this regard," it said, adding that an "increased risk....seems quite likely."
Laboratory tests in the 1970s and 1980s had suggested that nonoxynol-9 could neutralize organisms causing gonorrhea, chlamydial infections as well as HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. But new clinical trials did not support these hopes, WHO said.
The agency said spermicides with low doses of the chemical were "probably safe" for women who did not use them frequently or who were at low risk from the HIV virus which causes AIDS.
These included women in mutually monogamous relationships and those who shunned intravenous drugs.
Over the past 50 years, women have used spermicidal products -- vaginal gels, creams, foams, sponges, films and suppositories -- containing the chemical.
WHO noted that studies indicated the chemical actually contributed to weakening the vagina lining, thereby facilitating infection.
Nearly 17 percent of women of reproductive age in some Latin America countries use spermicides, WHO said.
"Women who have multiple daily acts of intercourse should be advised to choose another method of contraception," it said.
Spermicides with nonoxnol-9 remained a contraceptive option for women at low risk of HIV infection, but were far less effective in preventing pregnancy than the pill, intrauterine devices or injectable or implantable contraceptives.
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