Latex condoms highly effective in blocking AIDS, government now saying

August 06, 1993|By Newsday

After 12 years of debate and hesitancy, the U.S. government's three leading public health agencies were to jointly declare today that latex condoms, when properly used, are highly effective in blocking the spread of the AIDS virus.

The pronouncement is expected to reignite a controversy between AIDS activists and other groups favoring widespread condom distribution, and religious and parental interests, who say that condom promotion gives tacit approval to promiscuous behavior and could lead to HIV infection of those who think condoms are 100 percent effective.

"There's been a lot of debate about the product, condoms," said Dr. Bert Peterson, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Reproductive Health. "What these studies show is that the problem is not with the product. The problem is with the user.

"We think everyone needs to have this information, including teen-agers," Dr. Peterson said. "It's analogous to having a vaccine. So our message to school-age youth is: Avoid intercourse with an infected individual or an individual at risk. If you are having intercourse, use a condom, and use it consistently and properly."

Today's statement, issued by the CDC, National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, represents the strongest federal government support for condom use.

At the same time, a new CDC survey indicated that Americans have little confidence in condoms. In 1987, Dr. Peterson said, a third of surveyed adults said they thought condoms worked both as birth control and disease prevention. By 1991 only 28 percent expressed confidence in condom reliability. Furthermore, most Americans still don't know how to use a condom properly -- 75 percent were unaware that latex condoms dissolve and leak when used with petroleum-based lubricants.

The government report, appearing in today's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, says "latex condoms are highly effective for preventing HIV [human immunodeficiency virus] infection and other STDs [sexually transmitted diseases] when used consistently and correctly. Condom availability is essential in assuring consistent use. Men and women relying on condoms for prevention of HIV infection or other STDs should carry condoms or have them readily available."

Dr. Peterson said two European studies of heterosexual couples and condom use sparked the pronouncement.

The first study, conducted in eight European countries and led by Dr. Iona DeVincenzi, followed 123 heterosexual couples in which one member of each pair was HIV-positive. After 22 months of consistent latex condom use, not one single partner of HIV-positive mate became infected.

In a separate Italian study, 171 heterosexual couples in which one member of each pair was HIV-positive were followed for two years of consistent condom use. Three partners got infected, or 2 percent.

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