Women may have a new reason to think carefully about the type of contraception they choose to use. A recent study led by researchers from the University of Washington suggested that hormonal contraception, such as birth control pills or the Depo-Provera shot, may double the risk that women will become infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
The study also reported that women who have already been infected with the virus are twice as likely to pass the disease to their uninfected male partners if the women are using hormonal contraceptives.
Renee Heffron, lead study author and an epidemiology doctoral student working with the International Clinical Research Center at UW said, “Women should be counseled about potentially increased risk of HIV acquisition and transmission with hormonal contraception, particularly injectable methods, and about the importance of dual protection with condoms to decrease HIV risk.”
HIV is a virus that attacks cells in the immune system. Once these cells have been taken over by the genetic code of the virus, they are no longer able to perform important functions that help the body fight diseases.
This can leave the body more vulnerable to infections with bacteria, fungus, and other viruses. HIV can progress to AIDS if the immune system becomes severely damaged.
HIV is spread primarily by having sex without using a condom. Having multiple partners increases the risk of infection.
The UW study included nearly 3,800 couples in Africa. All the couples were heterosexual with one healthy partner and one partner infected with HIV. The results showed that using hormonal contraceptives doubled the risk that a woman would become infected with HIV.
The primary risk was seen in women using the injectable drug depot medroxprogeterone acetate or DMPA. Oral contraceptives showed a statistically insignificant increase in risk.
The study also showed that women who were HIV positive were twice as likely to give the virus to a male sexual partner if the women were using hormonal contraceptives.
Over 140 million women around the world use some form of hormonal contraceptive including oral pills and long-acting injections including Depo-Provera. Jared Baeten, an associate professor of global health with the International Clinical Research Center said, “The benefits of effective hormonal contraception are unequivocal and must be balanced with the risk for HIV infection.”
Hormonal contraceptives do not protect either partner against sexually transmitted diseases including HIV. Latex condoms are known to be highly effective protection against HIV infection.
The research team emphasized that couples need to use condoms in addition to other types of contraception to protect against both pregnancy and HIV infection.
Science Daily. Hormonal Contraception Doubles HIV Risk, Study Suggests. Web. October 9, 2011.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Basic Information about HIV and AIDS. Web. October 9, 2011.
MedicineNet.com. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV Management). Web. October 9, 2011.
Reviewed October 11, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith