?, 1992

Spermicide is linked to infections in women

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A spermicide touted for its ability to prevent the spread of AIDS may increase the risk of bladder and yeast infections in women, say three new studies, one by a Toronto researcher.

The spermicide is nonoxynol-9. The researchers say some women should consider switching to other forms of birth control, but only if they are in a relationship that puts them at low risk of catching AIDS, chlamydia, gonorrhea or other venereal diseases.

"Nonoxynol-9 is an extremely effective agent against many sexually transmitted diseases, as well as sperm," says Jackie McGroarty, a microbiologist at Toronto General Hospital.

Stable relationship

"We wouldn't recommend people discontinue use of spermicide unless they are suffering recurrent bladder or yeast infections and are currently in a stable, monogamous relationship."

If women who suffer infections when using spermicides or diaphragms want to use those contraceptives, they can get antibiotic treatment for other infections, says Dr. Thomas Hooton of the University of Washington's Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Bladder and yeast infections cause discomfort, but they aren't dangerous compared with sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancy, McGroarty said in an interview. Birth control pills have also been linked to yeast infections.

McGroarty presented her findings this week in Anaheim, Calif., during the American Society for Microbiology's annual meeting. Two related studies by Hooton have been submitted for publication in medical journals.

The studies are the first to link bladder and yeast infections to nonoxynol-9 even when the spermicide -- found in most spermicidal jellies, foams and creams -- is used without a diaphragm, vaginal sponge or condom, Hooton says. Some condoms are packaged with nonoxynol-9.

Higher risk

"There are studies that show women who use diaphragms and sponges are at higher risk of urinary tract (bladder) infections," says Dr. Amy Pollack, associate medical director of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

"However, the spermicide is generally considered antimicrobial. Therefore the presumption has been it's the barrier method (diaphragm or sponge) itself, not the spermicide, that's the problem."

Pollack says she hadn't seen the new studies, but "what she (McGroarty) is saying makes sense."

Phylis Barber, regulatory affairs manager for spermicide-maker Schmid laboratories Inc., says she was surprised by the studies and hadn't seen them. "We definitely will be taking a look," she says.

Representatives of other spermicide manufacturers say they were unable to offer immediate comment on the studies.

McGroarty also found nonoxynol-9 killed lactobacilli, harmless bacteria that naturally grow in the vagina to protect against infections.

Hooton says his studies suggest nonoxynol-9 can trigger infections independent of any contribution by diaphragms, which may spur infections directly or simply by holding spermicide in the vagina.

Bladder infection, or cystitis occurs when the bacteria travel up the urethra to the bladder. Yeast infections are vaginal overgrowths of the fungus Candida albicans. Both cause burning or stinging during urination and a frequent urge to urinate.

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Created: January 31, 1995
Last modified: April 11, 1998

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