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Scientists Discover Contraceptive Pill May Protect Women from Sexualy Transmitted Infections

May 08, 2016 11:43 AM EDT
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Oral contraceptive pill (COCP) is commonly known as a pill that prevents pregnancy by stopping ovulation. Just recently, scientists found out that it does not just control birth but it may also protect women against sexually transmitted viral infections.

For the first time, estradiol, a female sex hormone found as an ingredient in oral contraceptives, has been revealed to work as defense to women against herpes.

Estradiol is also present in the body of a woman during her menstrual cycle.

By testing their theory on mice, a team of researchers led by McMaster University's Charu Kaushic has revealed that estradiol boosts the body's anti-viral responses through anti-viral T cell immunity.

According to Eurekalert the experiment worked by inserting estradiol-releasing pellets into female mice. They then infected the mice with the herpes simplex virus, type 2 (HSV-2).

"To the best of our knowledge this is the first study that has shown how estradiol could be enhancing the immune system to fight against viral infection," said Charu Kaushic, the study's lead author, a professor in the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine and a member of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research and McMaster Immunology Research Centre, in a report by Eurekalert.

"If this pathway can be verified in women, then we have laid the foundation to address a number of important public health issues, particularly whether some hormonal contraceptives may be better than others for women who are at higher risk of acquiring sexually transmitted infections, such as in Sub-Saharan Africa, where both HIV-1 and HSV-2 infection rates are high," Kaushic added.

According to WHO, HSV-2 is a sexually transmitted infection characterized by painful blisters at the genitals. Moreover, infection with HSV-2 is lifelong and incurable.

At present, more women are infected with HSV-2, which is mainly transmitted during sex. In some cases it can be passed on from a mother to her infant during delivery.

WebMD notes that currently, HSV-2 cannot be cured but symptoms can be relieved by using medications to relieve the pain experienced by the affected person.

Kaushic notes that the findings, published in the scientific journal PLOS Pathogens, will lead to better understanding how women can be immuned to this disease which is affecting estimated 417 million people aged 15-49 worldwide have HSV-2 infection.

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