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Microbicides Against HIV

March 1, 2017

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Would Microbicides Eliminate the Need for Condoms?

No. When used consistently and correctly, male or female condoms are likely to provide better protection against HIV and other STIs than microbicides, so they are still the best choice. But for people who do not have access to condoms, or who cannot or will not use condoms, microbicides would provide another option. This is especially true for women whose male partners refuse to use condoms. Microbicides could be used without the knowledge of women's sexual partners, thereby putting the power of prevention directly in women's hands. Using microbicides could save lives and have a major impact in reducing the spread of HIV.

Would Microbicides Protect Against All Sexually Transmitted Infections?

Many of the microbicides being tested work against HIV. In time, a product may be developed that combines different microbicides and could prevent a wide range of STIs, including HIV (see multipurpose prevention technologies, or MPTs, above).


What if a Woman Wants to Get Pregnant?

Many of the microbicides being studied would allow a woman to get pregnant. These are called non-contraceptive microbicides. They would offer women the option of getting pregnant while still protecting themselves from infection -- an option that is not available with condom use. The tenofovir one percent gel tested in the CAPRISA 004 study and mentioned above is one example of a non-contraceptive microbicide. Contraceptive microbicides or MPTs would prevent pregnancy as well as HIV and, ideally, other STIs. It is important to have both types available.

Would Microbicides Be Safe?

Any new product must go through strict safety testing before becoming available to the public. Health activists and researchers are closely watching over the clinical testing of microbicides to make sure that the testing is being done correctly.

How Would Microbicides Benefit Men?

It is possible that the male partner of a woman living with HIV might be protected from infection if she used a vaginal or rectal microbicide. However, this would need to be tested in clinical trials. The safety and effectiveness of vaginal microbicides must be tested separately from rectal microbicides.

How Would Microbicides Benefit Women With HIV?

Microbicides could help protect women living with HIV from re-infection with other HIV strains, from other STIs, and from pregnancy.

Why Do We Need Microbicides if We Will Eventually Have a Vaccine to Prevent HIV?

Research on developing a vaccine to prevent HIV infection has not been successful so far. Microbicides may be available sooner than a preventive HIV vaccine. Even if a safe and effective vaccine is discovered, vaccines and microbicides will both have roles to play in the prevention of HIV.

How Much Will Microbicides Cost, and Will People Be Able to Afford Them?

Advocates are working with researchers and policy makers to make sure that any approved microbicide will be as affordable and accessible as possible.

What About Nonoxynol-9 (N-9)?

N-9 products are sold over the counter as spermicides that can prevent pregnancy. They cannot prevent the transmission of HIV or other infections. In fact, when used more than once a day, N-9 contraceptive products may actually increase HIV risk by irritating the lining of the vagina. Other studies show that N-9 is even more irritating to the rectum than to the vagina.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO):

  • N-9 is not effective at preventing the transmission of HIV or other STDs. It should NOT be used for disease prevention.
  • Women at risk for HIV, especially those having sex more than once a day, should NOT use N-9 for birth control
  • Condoms with N-9 provide no more protection against pregnancy or infection than plain lubricated condoms. Since N-9 condoms may cause irritation, they should not be used.
  • Products with N-9 should NEVER be used for anal sex

Taking Care of Yourself

Until microbicides are available, the best way to protect yourself and your partner from sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, is to use a male or female condom and use PrEP for the HIV-negative partner. It is also important to avoid the use of nonoxynol-9 products if you think there is any chance you may be exposed to HIV. Getting tested for STIs regularly and getting treatment quickly if you have an STI will also help reduce your risk of HIV infection if you are exposed to HIV.

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This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.


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