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An AIDS Preventive Looking for Human Proof

April 21, 1985|LEE DEMBART | Lee Dembart is a Times editorial writer

While no cure for AIDS has yet been discovered, researchers have found that certain over-the-counter spermicides contain an ingredient that kills the agents that cause AIDS and other venereal diseases.

The announcement earlier this year of the existence of the chemical--which had already been declared safe for human use--opens the possibility of an effective means of controlling the spread of AIDS. Thousands of homosexual men have expressed interest in the chemical, which is called nonoxynol-9. In laboratory tests, it has been totally effective in killing the AIDS virus, but no clinical tests have yet been performed on humans.

In laboratory tests at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, nonoxynol-9 has quickly killed the HTLV-III virus identified as a cause of AIDS. In laboratory tests at other institutions, including the University of California at San Diego and San Francisco, the University of Pittsburgh and Harvard, nonoxynol-9 has proved wholly effective in killing syphilis, gonorrhea and herpes 1 and 2, according to Bruce Voeller, a biochemist who is president of the Mariposa Foundation.

However, Dr. Neil Schram, chairman of the AIDS Task Force, has expressed concern about the announcement of the AIDS-killing properties of nonoxynol-9. In the absence of clinical tests, Schram believes that the efficacy of the chemical has not been demonstrated. In addition, he says, some homosexual men may use the chemical to resume promiscuous sexual activity without knowing its potential failure rate.

Nonetheless, Voeller urges all people to take precautions against AIDS by using any of several readily available spermicides whose labels say they contain nonoxynol-9 in concentrations of 4% to 5%. "Every supermarket and certainly every drugstore has whole shelf-loads of spermicides that are satisfactory for doing the job," he said. "We recommend that heterosexuals use those products in exactly the prescribed way. For homosexuals, the same applies."

Spermicides intended for use as contraceptives are available as foams, creams, gels and suppositories. Commercially available products with the necessary concentration of nonoxynol-9 include Conceptrol, Encare and Delfen.

In studying spermicides, the Food and Drug Administration found that nonoxynol-9 was safe for use as a food, drug or cosmetic. Voeller's Mariposa Foundation is attempting to raise money to conduct clinical tests of nonoxynol-9 as an AIDS killer. The foundation also hopes to facilitate the use of the chemical in lubricants, which are more likely to be used by homosexuals than spermicides are.

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