Big news on the STD prevention front was recently released. Last year scientist announced the results from a study done in South Africa on the effectiveness of a gel designed to inhibit the spread of HIV. The gel, which contains the active ingredient tenofovir, reduces transmission rates of HIV up to 39% with typical use and up to 54% with consistent use. Scientists and AIDS prevention advocates are excited about the implications this could have because the gel is the first prevention tool that can be used directly by the woman. Condoms and sexual monogamy on the part of her partner are often outside a woman’s control so this gel gives women a way to be in charge of their own risk.
The gel has even more implications that just HIV reductions. The researchers also found that the gel reduced transmission of herpes by 51% with typical use and 62% with consistent use. The herpes virus, while in and of itself is not deadly. It is however highly stigmatized in the U.S. in spite of its prevalence; 21% of all sexually active women in the U.S. have it. One of the primary symptoms of herpes is the creation of open blisters in the genital region. These blisters make transmission on HIV easier than if no sores were present. This gel can help prevent both of these diseases.
When the study was initially released, scientist were unsure of why the gel blocked herpes, they only knew that it did. They undertook a study to further explore their results and recently released their findings. The tenofovir in the gel, when it enters human tissue, blocks the creation of an enzyme that allows the herpes virus to flourish which makes it harder for the virus to actually infect a person who has used the gel. The gel also prolonged the life of lab mice that had been infected with the herpes virus.
As of now the gel is not in testing for U.S. approval but based on the results of the study manufacturer of the gel, Gilead, is considering the possibility of marketing to the U.S. They will have to spend millions of dollars on the approval process first and even if they started right away say it will take a few years before they are ready to present to the FDA but given its effectiveness it may be worth the time and money.