Condoms: A Pedestrian but Effective HIV Barrier


They are innocuous looking, but those square, multicolored foil-wrapped condoms can be a gift of life to those who may be at risk of contracting HIV.

They are old-school and not as sexy as the new technologies and approaches to defeating the spread of HIV, such as antiretroviral medications, but condoms work, experts say.

“Condoms continue to be an extremely effective mechanism for protecting against HIV infection,” said Phill Wilson, founder, CEO and president of the Black AIDS Institute.

Research has shown that increasing the availability of condoms is associated with significant reductions in HIV risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If used correctly during every sexual encounter, male condoms are 98 percent effective.

HIV, like other sexually transmitted diseases, is transmitted when infected urethral or vaginal secretions contact mucosal (or moist) surfaces that line the inside of the body, such as in the male urethra, the vagina, or cervix.

Latex condoms provide an essentially impermeable barrier to genital secretions that transmit STD-causing pathogens, laboratory tests show.

Latex is formulated from rubber, tapped from trees in Brazil, Southeast Asia or West Africa, according to an article on Howstuffworks.com. During the factory process other ingredients such as antifungal and antibacterial compounds; zinc oxide and sulfur, which help make the rubber more durable; ammonia, an anticoagulant; potassium laurate, a stabilizer and other preservatives and pigments.

Water is also added to determine the condoms' thickness — the more water, the thinner the condom.

More recently condoms have been produced from polyurethane or polyisoprene, extremely strong materials that allow for thinner condoms. They are ideal for people who are allergic to latex.

Water-based lubricants are safe to use with all types of condoms. Oil-based lubricants, such as moisturizer, lotion and petroleum jelly, can make latex condoms less effective, but they are safe to use with condoms made from polyurethane or polyisoprene.

Condoms:  A Pedestrian but Effective HIV Barrier

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