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Can using poppers be harmful if you have HIV?

Nov 3, 1998

is it dangerous to use poppers if you are hiv +?

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Thank you for your question.

Most of the research reports regarding poppers (Amyl Nitrates and Amyl Nitrites) have linked their use to an increased risk for acquiring HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). This includes an increased risk for sexually transmitted infections like KSHV/HHV-8 (the virus that causes Kaposi's Sarcoma). STDs can be much more severe in persons with HIV, especially in persons with a weakened immune system.

There have also been reports studying other potential harmful effects of poppers. For example, if a man who is taking the prescription drug Viagra (sildenafil citrate) also uses poppers, these two drugs can cause a serious (and potentially fatal) drug interaction. In addition, Viagra may also interact with certain drugs commonly used in the treatment of HIV and AIDS (including protease inhibitors). A dose modification of Viagra may be necessary when taken with certain HIV/AIDS related drugs. Therefore, if a man is taking Viagra, he should not use poppers, and he should talk to his doctor regarding potential drug interactions between Viagra and his other medications.

I have not found any published reports studying any direct harmful effects of poppers in persons who already have HIV (other than in men who are also taking Viagra). I was unable to find any published studies looking at any direct effect of poppers on viral load, disease progression, etc. However, there is a possibility that poppers may be able to suppress the immune system to a limited extent. Since this is a possibility, you may want to consider not using poppers, since you want to keep your immune system as strong as possible.

Until further studies are done, we cannot definitively say whether the use of poppers in persons with HIV will have any direct harmful effect on your health or not. However, because of the known health problems associated with poppers (for example an increase in practicing unsafe sex, leading to an increased risk for STDs) and because of the possible effect on your immune system, the use of poppers is generally not recommend. But ultimately, until further information becomes available, the decision to use poppers is up to you.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).

Discordant Couples (HIV Positive and Negative)
HIV life cycle, and how HIV affects the immune system

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