International reports that oestrogen could be used to curb the spread of HIV are premature and may have detrimental consequences, says HIV treatments, National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS spokesperson Bill Whittaker says.

International news agency reports on findings by Melbourne University Professor Roger Short, who claimed oestrogen could be used to boost levels of keratin in the outer layer of skin on the penis and theoretically prevent entry of the HIV virus into the body, spread around the world last week.

Whittaker warned such early reporting on preliminary research, which has yet to undergo any clinical trials, could have repercussions.

I don’t think this kind of publicity splash is helpful, because it can be misunderstood and unintentionally undermine efforts to promote HIV prevention through proven methods, not only in Australia but also in developing nations. Whittaker told the Sydney Star Observer.

He also pointed out that a previous thesis espoused by Short at the 2005 general meeting of the Royal Australian College of Physicians suggested lemon juice douches as an effective method of HIV and STI prevention for women in the developing world.

The ensuing media coverage led to the still unfounded and dangerous practice being adopted by many worldwide, Whittaker added.

I think Roger has done some very good research. His research on circumcision and HIV is of interest, but this particular research into oestrogen is only in the earliest of stages, Whittaker said.

There has been no research into the safety issues that could be associated with using a female hormone in men or what unwanted side effects or toxicities might come about as a result.

Even if safety issues were met, there would be considerable ethical challenges in trialling the compound in people because of the potential for people to become HIV infected.

I don’t dispute that this may be worth studying and that novel research should be encouraged, but the time for large scale publicity should be when this research has passed preliminary trials. I find this latest publicity splash quite disappointing.

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