By Will Boggs, MD
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Simple soap and water can knock out HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in genital secretions, according to a recent report.
At least one previous study has shown that genital cleansing with soap and water after intercourse can prevent HIV infection, the authors explain, but the direct effect of a soap solution on HIV has not been investigated.
Jonathan Z. Li and colleagues from University of California, San Francisco, tested the effects of a commercial bar soap (Ivory; Johnson & Johnson) and water on HIV and white blood cells in cervicovaginal lavage (CVL) fluid, in a mixture of CVL fluid and seminal fluid, or in a control medium.
Two or 6 minutes of exposure to soap and water decreased the infectivity of HIV by more than 1000-fold, the authors report in the medical journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. When the virus was in a CVL-seminal fluid mixture, a stronger concentration of soap in water was required to reduce viral infectivity by 30-fold.
"The present study demonstrates that soap and water solutions should be effective in inactivating HIV and HIV-infecting cells associated with barrier contraceptives or cells that are present in the vaginal canal," the researchers conclude.
Dr. Jay A. Levy, coauthor of the report, told Reuters Health that "the main message of this research is that regular soap works to kill HIV. Its major use in this regard should be on other instruments, such as diaphragms, used to prevent HIV transmission."
Levy emphasized that soap and water should not be used as a douche to eliminate HIV from the vagina.
First, this method has not been tested, he stressed. Second, soap can have adverse effects, including disrupting the lining of vagina that might actually make it more susceptible to infection, and altering the normal population of vaginal microbes that can protect against other infections.
SOURCES: Soap and Water Inactivate HIV http://www.natap.org/2003/nov/113003_21.htm
Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, October 2003.