HEALTH

Field tests for safe sex

NORA UNDERWOOD August 1 1988
HEALTH

Field tests for safe sex

NORA UNDERWOOD August 1 1988

Field tests for safe sex

HEALTH

Ever since the AIDS epidemic reached crisis proportions in the mid-1980s, widespread public education campaigns around the world have increasingly emphasized that— short of abstaining from sex—condom use is the best means of preventing sexual transmission of the fatal disease. As a result, condom sales are up sharply after years of decline. In Canada, sales have risen by 50 per cent since 1984, with 45 million sold during the past year alone. Still, despite widespread recommendations for condom use, there has been almost no testing of the prophylactic’s effectiveness as an anti-AIDS barrier. But researchers at the University of California in Los Angeles have now obtained results from preliminary studies that began two years ago. Declared study administrator Dr. Jeffrey Perlman: “It is good news about condoms.”

Those tests, sponsored by the Bethesda, Md.-based National Institutes of Health, found that only four out of a random sampling of 210 latex condoms selected from 31,000 prophylactics al-

lowed the passage of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS. In Ottawa, meanwhile, Health and Welfare Canada spokesmen said that the ministry’s health protection branch had no plans to conduct specific AIDS tests on condoms. Still, they noted that growing concern about the disease

Researchers subjected condoms to pressure tests before pressing a blunt syringe against a waterfilled prophylactic

had led the branch to resume strength and leakage tests on condoms in May, 1987—the first major trials since 1978.

One month after those tests began, officials at Toronto-based Julius Schmid of Canada Ltd., which supplies more than half of the country’s condom market, voluntarily recalled about 750,000 latex condoms because many of

them did not meet Ottawa’s leakage standards. At the time of the recall, Schmid Canada president Murray Black said that the company was improving its quality-control levels because of the new emphasis on AIDS.

In California, researchers subjected latex condoms to airand water-pressure tests before pressing a blunt syringe containing HIV against the inside of a water-filled prophylactic. Said Perlman: “The conclusion is that there are lots of boxes out there that are safe.” In the next stage of the study, which could start later this year, researchers plan to provide pretested latex condoms and spermicide to 1,000 AIDS-free volunteers. An additional 1,000 may participate as a control group but will only receive standard public-health information on the avoidance of sexually transmitted diseases. By contrast, researchers will ask members of the main group to use both forms of protection every time they have intercourse. The scientists will then test the participants every second month during a two-year period for signs of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. “Theoretically,” said Perlman, “they should have a zero infection rate.” That would be good news in the midst of a grim epidemic.

-NORA UNDERWOOD