Condoms’ Effectiveness in Preventing STDs, Including HIV, at Center of Debate on Revising Package Labels
The effectiveness of condoms in preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, is at the center of a debate on whether to revise the products' packaging labels to include information about their limits in disease prevention, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports. Advocates of the labeling change, including Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), say that because condoms do not provide complete protection against some STDs, their packaging should reflect these shortcomings (Johnson, AP/Long Island Newsday, 6/29). Coburn has placed a hold on acting FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford's nomination to head the agency, saying the hold will remain in place until FDA issues congressionally mandated labeling for condoms that clarifies the limits of their effectiveness in preventing pregnancy and STDs (Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report, 6/16). However, opponents of changing condom labels say it might undermine the public's confidence in condoms and increase the number of new HIV and other STD cases. FDA currently requires condom packages to say, "If used properly, latex condoms will help to reduce the risk of transmission of HIV infection (AIDS) and many other sexually transmitted diseases." Many condom brands also say they are very effective in preventing pregnancy. FDA officials recently have said they expect to have draft language of the new labels available soon, according to John Hart, a spokesperson for Coburn (AP/Long Island Newsday, 6/29).
Condom Effectiveness Studies
Many studies have shown that latex condoms are effective at preventing pregnancy and HIV transmission in a large percentage of cases, according to the AP/Yahoo! News. Over a one-year period, with perfect use -- always using a condom and putting it on before skin-to-skin contact -- condoms reduce the risk of becoming pregnant to 3% and reduce the chance of contracting HIV to less than 1%. For most other STDs, experts say evidence suggests condoms reduce the risk of infection, but effectiveness varies by disease and more research is needed. According to a 2004 World Health Organization bulletin and a 2001 NIH report, individual studies have demonstrated that condom use reduces the risk of infection for:
- Gonorrhea by 39% to 62% in women and 49% to 75% in men;
- Chlamydia by 26% to 90% in women and 33% in men;
- Genital herpes by 30% to 92% in women and less in men, though no numbers were given;
- Trichomoniasis by 30% in women and significantly less in men, though no numbers were given;
- Syphilis by 40% to 60% in both sexes;
- Pelvic inflammatory disease by 55%; and
- Genital ulcers by 18% to 23% in both sexes.