Another Study Finds Gel May Reduce the Risk of Herpes

What will this mean for African-American women?

Posted: 11/02/2011 11:27 AM EDT
Filed Under AIDS

Aids, Herpes, STD, gel

While doing research on AIDS medications, two South African researchers discovered that a vaginal gel they were testing that can reduce a woman’s chance of contracting HIV by 39 percent also can cut the risk of contracting genital herpes by 51 percent.

Recently, the National Institutes of Health, pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences Inc. and universities in Belgium and Italy conducted a similar study to try to understand why the gel worked against herpes — and they found very similar results.

The New York Times reported:

"An executive at Gilead, the company that makes tenofovir, the anti-AIDS drug that is the gel’s active ingredient, said the company was debating whether to spend the millions of dollars needed to get the gel approved for the American market. Even if the company pressed ahead immediately, “it would be three to four years before we were ready to submit data” to the Food and Drug Administration, Norbert W. Bischofberger, Gilead’s chief scientific officer, said.

"Genital herpes is far more common than AIDS. The World Health Organization estimates that 20 percent of all sexually active adults have it. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 21 percent of sexually active women have it, including 16 percent of all white women and 48 percent of all Black women.

"While not fatal, the infection can be very painful, ruining sexual pleasure. The blisters it causes, which resemble the cold sores caused on the lips by a related virus, can also be an entryway for more dangerous pathogens, including H.I.V. and syphilis."

So what does this mean for Black women?

A whole lot actually. Microbicides — or vaginal gels — could potentially save our lives.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black women are 15 times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV than white women. And while we make up only 12 percent of the female population, we account for 57 percent of all new HIV infections among women each year. Between 70-75 percent of those infections are from unprotected heterosexual contact.

And as has previously reported, not all women feel comfortable or safe demanding their male partners to use condoms. Albeit being in an abusive relationship, being economically dependent on your partner, or not feeling empowered to talk about condom use, this power dynamic definitely plays a factor in the HIV rates among Black women. The good news is that microbicides can offer women discreet protection that they control in order to protect them from HIV and herpes.

We're not sure when this gel is going to be FDA-approved for use here in the U.S., but Anna Wald, M.D., a herpes specialist at the University of Washington's school of public health, told the Times that she was confident that "American women would accept it" when the time comes.

(Photo:  EPA/JON HRUSA /Landov)