- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 25, 2004

That tried and true cleansing duo — soap and water — kills the AIDS virus, scientific research shows.

Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco combined the lather of Ivory soap with varying amounts of body fluids containing HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus, in a test tube. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

“The soap consistently trumped the virus,” HIV researcher Dr. Jay Levy said in the June issue of POZ magazine, a publication for those who are HIV-positive.

Dr. Jonathan Li, a researcher in Dr. Levy’s laboratory, and Elizabeth Mack, a lab technician, assisted in the research and confirmed the results.

“In the laboratory, HIV can be killed by soap and water. There are yet to be any clinical studies showing it will work in the general population,” Dr. Li said.

Said Miss Mack: “We didn’t test the soap in sexual situations. But we can say the amount of virus we tested the soap against [in the laboratory] was higher” than the amount transmitted through sexual contact.

Dr. Levy said it is still uncertain how useful soap and water will be against acquiring HIV through sexual intercourse.

The trio’s research was published in the peer-reviewed journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

The report found that a “common bar soap and tap water solution was able to demonstrate a 30-fold HIV inactivation” and a “57-to-87 percent reduction” in white blood cells. The researchers said white blood cells “may also play a key role in HIV transmission.”

Miss Mack said Dr. Levy had hypothesized soap would kill HIV, even before the experiments. “HIV is a lipid. The outside of the virus is composed of fat,” she said.

Noting that soap can break apart fat and grease in a dishpan, Dr. Levy “assumed it would disrupt the membrane” of HIV, Miss Mack said.

The published research came about as a result of a conversation Dr. Levy had with a clinical researcher who was trying to develop a diaphragm to prevent HIV infections in Africa. The other researcher “wanted to see if there was a microbicide agent that could be used with a diaphragm for extra protection” against the AIDS virus, Miss Mack said.

“Dr. Levy then asked her, ‘Have you tried soap?’” His experiments began soon afterward.

Miss Mack said the scientists focused on Ivory soap because it is “widely available, has the least amount of additives [of any soap product] and is the closest thing to what’s available in Third World nations.”

“This bar soap was as pure as we could find, and it’s cheap,” Dr. Li said.

He noted that the research team tested different concentrations of the soap and water solution against HIV-laced body fluids. Even the most diluted solutions killed HIV, Dr. Li said. But he said the most effective solutions featured 1 gram of soap and 200 to 400 milligrams of tap water.

Although it still is uncertain whether soap and water can destroy HIV in a person who has had unprotected sex, Dr. Li said, “It is effective in cleaning barrier contraceptives, such as diaphragms, or other instruments contaminated with genital HIV.”

Dr. Levy said he hopes the findings help developing countries where HIV is rampant but other sterilizing solutions are scarce.

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