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Commentary & Opinion

Condoms Remain a Vital Tool in Preventing the Spread of HIV

October 2, 2009

"As someone who has cared for people living with HIV for almost 30 years, I have seen both the ravages of the epidemic and the successes of major improvements in HIV prevention and therapy. However, until we create a biomedical intervention that is 100 percent effective at stopping HIV transmission, using condoms during anal or vaginal sex is still one of the most important tools we can use to stop HIV transmission.

"This is especially true for gay and bisexual men, who continue to have the highest rates of new infection in the United States. Infection rates are disproportionately elevated among black gay and bisexual men and other men of color.

"These infections are preventable. HIV screening tests are highly accurate, and treatment has become extremely effective, so knowing one's HIV status, and that of one's partners, is a first step in slowing the epidemic. Condoms, when used correctly and consistently during penetrative sex, are very effective at stopping HIV transmission. Condoms cannot provide 100 percent protection against all sexually transmitted HIV infections, but when used correctly and consistently, the chances of transmitting HIV and many other STDs become extremely small. Sexually active people should also avail themselves of the two vaccines that do protect against sexually transmitted viruses, hepatitis B and HPV (human papillomavirus).

"Research into new interventions, like HIV vaccines, oral medications for HIV prevention (known as pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP), and topical gels (known as microbicides), continues around the world, including right here in Boston. Prevention research and discovery is a long-term process, though, and we should be prepared for future successes and failures. After all, it took 47 years to develop the polio vaccine.

"Until the day comes when we have a safe and effective vaccine or other intervention that stops HIV transmission in its tracks, we should all continue using condoms and practicing safer sex."

The author is medical research director and co-chair of the Fenway Institute. Visit

Back to other news for October 2009

Adapted from:
Bay Windows (Boston)
09.28.2009; Kenneth H. Mayer, M.D.

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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