For the first time, a vaginal gel has proved capable of blocking the AIDS virus: It cut in half a woman's chances of getting HIV from an infected partner in a study in South Africa. Scientists called it a breakthrough in the long quest for a tool to help women whose partners won't use condoms.
The results need to be confirmed in another study, and that level of protection is probably not enough to win approval of the microbicide gel in countries like the United States, researchers say. But they are optimistic it can be improved.
"We are giving hope to women," who account for most new HIV infections, said Michel Sidibe in a statement. He is executive director of the World Health Organization's UNAIDS program. A gel could "help us break the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic," he said.
AIDS is the leading cause of death of African American females between the ages of 25-34. Black females account for 7% of new HIV/AIDS cases among American women.
The gel, spiked with the AIDS drug Tenofovir, cut the risk of HIV infection by 50 percent after one year of use and 39 percent after 2 1/2 years, compared to a gel that contained no medicine.
To be licensed in the U.S., a gel or cream to prevent HIV infection may need to be at least 80 percent effective, Fauci said. That might be achieved by adding more Tenofovir or getting women to use it more consistently. In the study, women used the gel only 60 percent of the time; those who used it more often had higher rates of protection.
The gel also cut in half the chances of getting HSV-2, the herpes virus that causes genital warts. That's important because other sexually spread diseases raise the risk of catching HIV.
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