Saturday, 26 July 2014

Don't Get Too Excited About The 'HIV-Killing' Condom Yet


A groundbreaking new condom that uses an antiviral gel as added protection against HIV, herpes and HPV may soon hit the shelves in Australia. But some experts are wary of the effectiveness of VivaGel, the lube that makes the condom so potent against viral sexually transmitted infections.

The VivaGel condom, made by pharmaceutical company Starpharma, is the only condom of its kind to incorporate the antiviral compound, asodrimer sodium, in its lubricant. Lab tests show that it can "inactivate" up to 99.9 percent of HIV, herpes (HSV) and HPV, according to the company's press release.

But Dr. Anna-Barbara Moscicki, a pediatrics professor at University of California, San Francisco and an HPV expert, advises caution. She researched VivaGel as an intravaginal cream for women who wanted to protect themselves from viruses without using a condom, and found that it caused mild irritation and low-grade inflammation in study participants after two weeks of twice-daily use.

That's more serious than it sounds: Inflammation is the body's response to an irritant or pathogen. When a part of the body is irritated, the body sends protective white blood cells like neutrophils and lymphocytes to the site of the injury to begin healing it.

But it's those very cells, explained Moscicki, that the HIV virus uses to replicate itself and spread throughout the body. If the lubricant irritates a vaginal wall to the point of inflammation, the body could send white blood cells straight to the site where they are most likely to come into contact with the HIV virus.

Inflammation also breaks the skin barrier down, making it easier for HPV to access the basal skin cell layer and infect a person, said Moscicki.

Based on her 2011 study, as well as another one with similar results, Moscicki hopes that Starpharma has worked out the kinks that caused inflammation in study participants.

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