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A Rubber Rude Awakening

A Rubber Rude Awakening


A government fact sheet that had long promoted condoms as 'highly effective' in preventing HIV transmission has been changed to offer a more-neutral summary of the pros and cons of condom use, and Democrats charged during the last session of Congress that politics were trumping science. 'We are extremely concerned about these alterations and deletions of important scientific information,' Rep. Henry Waxman of California and 13 other Democrats wrote in a letter to Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson on December 18. 'They appear to be part of an Orwellian trend at HHS. Simply put, information that used to be based on science is being systematically removed from the public when it conflicts with the Administration's political agenda.' The condom fact sheet on the CDC Web site had said that refraining from sex was the best way to avoid HIV and other STDs. It continued, though, 'But for those who have sexual intercourse, latex condoms are highly effective when used consistently and correctly.' The revised version says that condoms 'can reduce the risk of STD transmission. However, no protective method is 100% effective, and condom use cannot guarantee absolute protection against any STD.' Given the mixed evidence, the CDC opted for a more-neutral introduction to the fact sheet, says David Fleming, MD, the CDC's deputy director for science. 'This fact sheet is designed to be as scientifically accurate as possible,' he says. 'We specifically tried not to nuance it in the direction either of encouraging or discouraging use of condoms. The interpretation really is in the eyes of the beholder.' Fleming says the fact sheet was written with the help of people at HHS headquarters but that he stands by it from a scientific point of view.

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