Birth Control Shots May Double the Risk of HIV, Study Suggests

By Veronique Greenwood | October 4, 2011 1:19 pm


For African women looking to avoid pregnancy, hormone shots seem like a good choice. They don’t require your partner to take responsibility for birth control, and they can be given once and then forgotten about for months. But that could be shaken by a study of nearly 4,000 women in seven African countries that found that hormone shots double a woman’s risk of contracting HIV, as well as doubling the risk of her passing it on to a partner. And it doesn’t appear to be because of decreased use of condoms in couples where the woman is on the shot: the researchers, who published their work in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, accounted for that, and found that the effects were still there.

Why this happens isn’t clear, but it’s possible that the hormones in the shot may alter the environment of the female reproductive tract to make it a more livable place for HIV. The team found that those on the shot have higher concentrations of the virus in their genital fluid than those not on birth control, though blood levels remain the same, suggesting that there’s something to the idea that the vaginal environment is altered. More work probing this finding will be required, perhaps including a randomized controlled study, which this was not. But going forward, the researchers say, doctors providing birth control shots in clinics in Africa, where the prevalence of HIV is a public health crisis, should emphasize that condoms should be still be used in order to avoid spreading or contracting the virus.

[via the NYTimes]

Image courtesy of a.drian / flickr

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • http://Home andras

    you guys don’t talk about the possibility that, given the sense of freedom from pregnancy, a woman can have sex more often, exposing her to more oportunities to get infected… By a higher concentration of virus in the genital tract… Andy

  • Puppetmistress

    Correlation doesn’t equal causation. They may have accounted for women on birth control having more unprotected sex, but what about whether sub-par medical facilities are using contaminated needles?

  • Jay Fox

    Seems to me that the whole idea of birth control strategies is to alter the woman so that pregnancy is not possible. It is not so hard to imagine that such alteration might prove hospitable to viral invasion, and not just HIV. How does the “other viral load” of these women differ from those not inoculated?

  • ABC

    Finally! The pope said “I would say that this problem of AIDS cannot be overcome merely with money, necessary though it is. If there is no human dimension, if Africans do not help, the problem cannot be overcome by the distribution of prophylactics: on the contrary, they increase it. The solution must have two elements: firstly, bringing out the human dimension of sexuality, that is to say a spiritual and human renewal that would bring with it a new way of behaving towards others, and secondly, true friendship offered above all to those who are suffering, a willingness to make sacrifices and to practise self-denial, to be alongside the suffering.”

    God told him the answer a long time ago. God just forgot to mention that condoms are still effective, I guess.

    For those who think I’m a bible-thumper: I am an atheist.


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