Depo Provera May Double Risk of Getting, Transmitting HIV

<"">Depo Provera, a contraceptive injection that is one the most highly used methods of birth control in sub-Saharan Africa, could be contributing to the transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. According to a new study from the University of Washington in Seattle, Depo Provera may double the chances that a woman will contract HIV and pass it on to male sexual partners.

According to WebMD, Depo Provera contains hormones similar to progesterone and is given as an injection. Depo Provera provides protection against pregnancy for up to 14 weeks, but the shot must be received once every 12 weeks to remain fully protected.

According to a report from Bloomberg News, the Washington University study followed 3,790 African couples in which one partner had HIV. In couples where the woman used Depo Provera, the woman was nearly twice as likely to acquire HIV infections from their infected partners as those who used no contraception. Those women were also twice as likely to transmit the infections to their partners.

According to a report from The New York Times, the study did account for condom use, something often neglected by users of hormonal birth control.

The study builds on previous research which also found that those given progestin shots had higher rates of infection with a virus similar to HIV compared with those who weren’t given the shots, the Times said. Some speculate that the high amount of progestin in a Depo Provera shot causes a thinning of vaginal tissue, making it easier for viruses to enter and exit.

It’s not known if birth control pills carry the same risk, the Times said, as not enough pill users were included in the study. But it is possible.

Charles S. Morrison and Cavite Nanda, researchers at FHI 360, a nonprofit organization in Durham, North Carolina, told Bloomberg that the study results indicate that use of Depo Provera could be helping to fuel the AIDS crisis in Africa. But they also acknowledge that curbing its use there would likely “contribute to increased maternal mortality and morbidity and more low birthweight babies and orphans.”

In the Times article, Morrison pointed out that the study serves as a “very important reminder to women” to use condoms if they’re having sex with a new partner or not in a monogamous relationship.

The study, which appears in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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