When you think of Australia, you probably think of huge saltwater crocs, baby-snatching dingoes, vegemite sandwiches, and actors like Hugh Jackman or Russell Crowe. Australia is also home to Starpharma—a cutting edge pharmaceutical and life-science company that's working diligently to curb the number of new STD infections. Starpharma has teamed with healthcare company Ansell Limited to introduce condoms with a special coating that repels up to 99.9% of viruses it comes in contact with. These include HIV, herpes simplex, and human papillomavirus to name a few. Go, Australia! (Get more info about different kinds of sexually transmitted viruses in 7 Not-So-Deadly Myths about STDs).
Having recently received approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (Australia's equivalent of the FDA) these virus-annihilating prophylactics are called Lifestyles Dual Protect and are expected to hit Australian shelves before the winter. Or as the Australians call the months between September and Feburary—summer. This past March, Lifestyles Dual Protect condoms were approved for sale in Japan—where they are selling like virus-killing hotcakes. Okamoto Industries, the top condom marketer in Japan, states that these condoms reduce the viral load of infected fluids by over 99%, making the spread of infection virtually impossible. At the same time, Ansell, Okamoto, and Starpharma are clear in saying that the viruses aren't actually killed but merely deactivated.
The active substance in Lifestyles Dual Protect condoms is a nanoscopic polymer called astodrimer sodium which is sold with the trade name VivaGel. The VivaGel is used to coat both the outside and inside of the condom, which means its protection extends to both partners. Although it sounds a bit like hand-sanitizer, VivaGel does not burn or sting the way hand sanitizer can. (Don't put hand sanitzer on condoms, by the way). In Australia, 1 in 8 adults is estimated to be carrying the herpes virus, so Lifestyles Dual Protect condoms are sure to be a big seller.
The chief executive of Starpharma, Dr Jackie Fairley, is confident that the VivaGel-coated condoms will be available for purchase in Australia soon. They are also undergoing clinical trials for use in the US—specifically to combat baterial vaginosis. There are a few caveats though, as Dr Fairley points out in her interview with ABC News in America:
"Condoms are not 100 percent effective…so anything you can do to reduce the number of virus particles by inactivating them with a substance like VivaGel would reduce that overall viral load. The more viral particles you're exposed to, the higher your chance of infection."
While no method is foolproof against either pregnancy or infection, VivaGel-coated condoms can definitely decrease the risk of infection by a wide margin. That's good news for everyone. (Get more facts about sexual health in The Shocking Truth About STDs).