Depo-Provera Injectable Hormonal Contraceptive Increases HIV Risk By 40 Percent, Researchers Say

A recent analysis of HIV data indicates that women who use Depo-Provera as a means of birth control are at greater risk of contracting the disease. Whereas, other forms of contraceptive did not increase a woman’s risk of HIV.

Science Codex reports that researchers from UC Berkeley are calling Depo-Provera users at “moderate increase of relative risk” of contracting HIV compared to other birth control users or non-users. The study, which was published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases, noted a 40 percent increased risk of contracting HIV in the Depo-Provera population.

Scientists have long hypothesized that birth control may play a role in susceptibility to HIV. However, this is the first study to confirm an elevated risk for a specific subset of birth control users. The Depo-Provera shot is formally known as depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA) and is sometimes simply referred to as the birth control shot. The injection is only needed once every three months to provide pregnancy protection. However, the larger doses of hormones upfront and the use of DMPA may play a role in one’s ability to contract HIV.

Young Health Magazine reports that approximately 144 million women all over the world use hormonal contraception. Of those 144 million women, 41 million use the birth control shot and 103 million take in oral contraceptive pills or other forms of birth control. The study compared both “high risk” populations and general populations for risk. The “high risk” group was at 40 percent greater risk of contracting HIV when using Depo-Provera, whereas 31 percent of the general population was at greater risk.

However, the study was quick to point out that the relative risk, as HIV is not prevalent, is only moderate, but is of concern especially in the “high risk” community. Those who work in the sex industry, such as prostitutes, should consider the new findings as other forms of birth control do not increase HIV risk.

“However, the limited number of studies on high risk women leaves uncertainty for this important subgroup of women. No increased risk was noted for users of oral contraceptive pills, combined oral contraceptives, or norethisterone enanthate.”

Researchers said that DMPA should not be banned based on the findings, as it may put more women at risk of unintended pregnancies, which could lead to death in developing countries where birth is still risky.

“Banning DMPA would leave many women without immediate access to alternative, effective contraceptive options. This is likely to lead to more unintended pregnancies, and because childbirth remains life-threatening in many developing countries, could increase overall deaths among women.”

Instead of banning Depo-Provera use, researchers are asking for more studies to be done to determine what exactly is causing the link between the birth control shot and increased risk of HIV.