Cheap condoms could cause skin infections, diarrhoea: Research

Zee Media Bureau

Pune: Every year the government spends exorbitant amounts of money on advertisements and campaigns to educate people about safe sexual intercourse. But a recent research conducted on condoms in Pune presents a grim and disconcerting picture.

Recently a research was conducted on condoms by four Microbiology students and one Botany student, under the guidance of Prof Bharat Ballal, assistant professor at Yashwantrao Mohite College (YMC), Bharati Vidyapeeth Deemed University .The results of this research has revealed that three out of 12 brands of condoms popular in the market contain traces of disease-causing pathogens which raises pertinent questions about their safety and genuinity.

These three varieties are locally-produced and are thoroughly purchased. These brands are priced at Rs 30 for a pack of 10, compared to high-end brands that are sold for Rs 100 or 110 for a pack of 10. And one of these brands in the red is recognized by the government and is freely distributed by Population Services International, India (PSI).

"The results are shocking. The pathogen found in one brand showed similarities to Bacillus anthracis, which is an anthrax agent," said Harpreet Matey, one of the researchers. "The two other varieties had microorganisms similar to Bacillus endophyticus and Micrococcus luteus respectively. "Bacillus anthracis can cause cuteneous anthrax (severe skin infection), pulmonary anthrax (haemorrhagic pneumonia) and intestinal diseases like bloody diarrhoea," said Professor Ballal. Although Bacillus endophyticus and Micrococcus luteus are not proven pathogens, Ballal said, "They might be harmful if they come in contact during intercourse."

Researchers took 12 different samples across high-end, medium-end and low-end condom brands for the study.They took the surface culture of the contraceptives, using sterile cotton swabs and plated them. After 25 hours, 10 samples (all of which were medium-end and low-end brands) showed signs of microbe colonisation.

On performing cultural morphological and biochemical tests of the colonies, it was found that seven medium-end contraceptives had organisms which are found in the human body anyway and were thus considered non-pathogenic. However, the other three were found to have microorganisms that showed unusual characteristics, which could not be confirmed by biochemical tests.

The samples were then sent to National Centre for Cell Sciences (NCCS), located in University of Pune for 16S ribosomal typing — a test to match the microorganisms with the ones existing in the database. The sequences were then scrutinised and submitted to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information(NCBI) to include in their database.

"The infected samples were sourced from Budhwar Peth`s red light area," said Ankush Jee Bhat, another researcher. "One of the brands is recognised by the government and the one that was found to have Bacillus anthracis is popular amongst homosexuals," said Tejaswi Sevekari, director of Saheli, an NGO that works for sex workers.

When questioned, a PSI official said all freely distributed condoms were safe to use. "All condoms are tested in World Health Organisation labs. Only after the tests, does the government send them to us in sealed packets, which are then distributed," he said.

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