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A Slippery Solution to AIDS Prevention?

3 sexual lubricants kill HIV in test tubes, but experts warn against false hope

FRIDAY, July 20, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Biologists in Texas are trumpeting their findings that three popular sexual lubricants kill the virus that causes AIDS, but skeptical experts say it's too early to predict a breakthrough in HIV protection.

Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch acknowledge they only know what the lubricants do in test tubes. But they're crossing their fingers, and hoping to launch a human study soon.

These products are "very powerful," and they're already big sellers. If you walk into any pharmacy, you'll see these. They'll be up there," says study author Dr. Samuel Baron.

Baron first made waves last year with a study that found the saltiness of saliva kills the AIDS virus in the mouth.

In the new study, researchers examined 22 "personal lubricants" that reduce friction during sexual activity. A small bottle of any one product generally sell for less than $8.

Findings appear in today's issue of the journal AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses.

Three products, Astroglide, Silken Secret and Vagisil Intimate Moisturizer, were potent HIV killers, the researchers say. When mixed with HIV-infected semen, the lubricants reduced the level of HIV infection by a thousand-fold.

In other words, only .1 percent of the virus was left after being treated with the lubricant, Baron says.

The killing process took less than five minutes, much less than the 30 minutes it normally takes HIV to enter a person's body after contact, he says.

The lubricants protected against HIV even after spending eight hours at warm temperatures normal for a human body, and they killed the virus even when diluted, the researchers say.

Biofilm, a California company, sells Astroglide and Silken Secret. Combe Inc. of New York makes Vagisil Intimate Moisturizer.

Baron says the University of Texas paid for the initial research, but one of the two lubricant manufacturers later helped with funding. He would not say which company was involved.

Baron says two common chemicals in the lubricants appear to kill HIV, but he would not name the chemicals pending the release of another study. He says the two chemicals are added to thicken the lubricants and make them slippery.

The next step is human tests, which may cost as much as $3 million, Baron says.

Not everyone is as excited about the findings as Baron.

Two AIDS experts say the University of Texas should have waited to publicize its results.

Carl Dieffenbach, a federal AIDS official, warns against "false hope" and points to the history of nonoxynol-9, another chemical that initially seemed to be a potent HIV-killer.

Nonoxynol-9, an ingredient in some personal lubricants, kills sperm and is considered a form of birth control. It also targets HIV cells, but human tests showed that it creates tiny lesions that may give the surviving virus an easy path into the body.

The Texas research is "interesting, but it's premature to make any conclusion," Dieffenbach says.

An official at Gay Men's Health Crisis, a leading AIDS organization, says he also is skeptical.

"Preliminary data always looks tantalizing, but so many things look great in a test tube, and then don't pan out," says Gregg Gonsalves, director of treatment advocacy.

What To Do

Experts says no evidence suggests personal lubricants have any effect on the HIV virus in humans. The findings in the new study don't apply to humans. Besides abstinence or sex with a monogamous partner, condoms remain the best protection, they say.

However, lubricants reduce friction and prevent abrasions and abrasions may contribute to the spread of HIV. Experts recommend the use of water-based lubricants specifically designed for use during sex, along with a condom.

To learn more about condoms and how to use them properly, check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .

Don't trust nonoxynol-9 to prevent transmission of the AIDS virus. Read this alert from the American Medical Association.

SOURCES: Interviews with Samuel Baron, M.D., professor, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston; Gregg Gonsalves, director, treatment advocacy, Gay Men's Health Crisis, New York City; Carl Dieffenbach, Ph.D., associate director, Basic Science Program, Division of AIDS, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Bethesda, Md.; July 20, 2001, AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses
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