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Spermicide Flip Side: Compound may promote papillomavirus infection

A widely used spermicide may increase a woman's risk of contracting human papillomavirus from a sex partner, a study in mice suggests. On the other hand, a thickening agent in many vaginal lubricants sold commercially impedes the virus' ability to infect female mice via their genital tracts—even in the presence of the spermicide.

It remains to be seen whether the findings will translate to people, cautions study coauthor Jeffrey N. Roberts, a human papillomavirus (HPV) researcher at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md. But the results "raise the intriguing possibility that you could formulate [the two compounds] as a spermicide that would prevent HPV infection," he says.

Nonoxynol-9, the most widely used spermicide, has come under scrutiny because its strong detergent properties—which make it lethal to sperm—irritate the lining of the genital tract of some women.

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