What is the significance?
Women who have unprotected sex or have multiple partners have not only an increased the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs also known as STDs) but also have a risk of pregnancy. Aside from condoms, other contraceptive methods do not protect against HIV and other STIs but can effectively prevent an unintended pregnancy with potential complications and perinatal transmission associated with HIV infection. Based on the new 2019 recommendations by the World Health Organization (WHO), the CDC published updated guidelines to the 2016 U.S. Medical Eligibility Criteria (US MEC) for Contraceptive Use regarding women at high risk for HIV infection in April 2020.
The following updates were made to the US MEC for Contraceptive Use, 20161:
Women at high risk for HIV:
There are no restrictions for use (MEC Category 1) of all contraception methods, now including IUDs and depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA) injection. Previously, high risk for HIV was a condition for which copper-containing and progesterone-releasing IUD and DMPA use was MEC Category 2 (benefits generally outweigh the risks of the condition).
Women on antiretroviral (ARV) therapy:
The CDC has clarified that their recommendations for contraception in women taking nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) applies to all NRTI indications: prevention (PrEP) or treatment of HIV infection. Most contraceptive methods are MEC Category 1 except initiation of IUDs in women whose HIV viral loads are not controlled or are not ARV therapy due to the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease due to the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease with IUD insertion (MEC Category 2).
See Table 1 for a summary of recommendation changes.
Summary of Clinical Evidence
The US MEC recommendations are based on a review of clinical evidence, the WHO recommendations, and epidemiological information regarding unintended pregnancy, contraceptive use, HIV infection, and maternal morbidity and mortality in the US.2 In the previous 2017 US MEC update, intramuscular DMPA (DMPA-IM) use changed from a category 1 to a category 2 based on evidence of possible increased risk for HIV acquisition in women using DMPA who are already at high risk of infection.2,3 However, in August 2019, the WHO published the following updates regarding recommendations for contraceptive use in this population:
Women with high HIV risk are eligible to use all methods of contraception without restriction (category 1)4
- All progestin-only methods, including progestin-only pills (POPs), intramuscular and subcutaneous DMPA, levonorgestrel (LNG) implants, and etonogestrel (ETG) implants
- Copper and LNG intrauterine devices (IUDs)
- All combined hormonal contraceptive methods, including combined oral contraceptives (COCs), combined contraceptive patches, and combined vaginal rings
These recommendations for this patient population have been made in light of the Evidence for Contraceptive Options and HIV Outcomes (ECHO) trial, which aimed to determine the risk of HIV incidence with the use of DMPA-IM, copper IUD, and LNG implant contraceptives. The randomized, multicenter, open-label trial included 7,839 non-pregnant, HIV-seronegative African females aged 16 to 35 years seeking effective contraception who were placed into 3 groups of contraceptive methods: DMPA-IM, copper IUD, and LNG implant.3 After 18 months, 397 HIV infections were observed: 36% in the DMPA-IM group, 35% in the copper IUD group, and 29% in the LNG implant group with no significant statistical differences between each method.3 Therefore, DMPA-IM copper IUD, or LNG implant use does not further increase the risk of getting HIV in patients already at high risk for HIV. In addition, patients younger than 25 years were associated with higher HIV incidence than those 25 years or older, and herpes simplex virus-2 (HSV-2) seropositive patients were associated with higher HIV incidence than those who were HSV-2 seronegative.3 However, age and HSV-2 status did not significantly alter the relationship between contraceptive use and HIV acquisition.3
Although the ECHO trial did not assess other hormonal methods (e.g., COCs, subcutaneous DMPA, hormonal IUDs), WHO also made their recommendations based on low/low-to-moderate quality studies or extrapolation from other studies indicating no increased risk for HIV acquisition with these methods.3,4 A consensus was also made that “no biological or clinical reasons” were evident “that a lower hormonal dose, different delivery mechanism, or different progestin” would affect HIV risk.”3
- Tepper NK, Curtis KM, Cox S, Whiteman MK. Update to U.S. Medical Eligibility Criteria for Contraceptive Use, 2016: Updated Recommendations for the Use of Contraception Among Women at High Risk for HIV Infection. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:405–410. Available from:http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6914a3
- Tepper NK, Krashin JW, Curtis KM, et al. “Update to CDC’s U.S. Medical Eligibility Criteria for Contraceptive Use, 2016: Revised Recommendations for the Use of Hormonal Contraception Among Women at High Risk for HIV Infection.” MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2017;66(37):990-994.
- Evidence for Contraceptive Options and HIV Outcomes (ECHO) Trial Consortium. HIV incidence among women using intramuscular depot medroxyprogesterone acetate, a copper intrauterine device, or a levonorgestrel implant for contraception: a randomised, multicentre, open-label trial. Lancet. 2019;394(10195):303-313.
- Contraceptive eligibility for women at high risk of HIV. Guidance statement: recommendations on contraceptive methods used by women at high risk of HIV. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2019. License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.
About the Authors
Marjorie Valdez is a fourth-year pharmacy student at the UC San Diego School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
Cydnee Ng, PharmD completed her pharmacy training at UC San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences in 2019. She is currently a community pharmacist at Walgreens in the San Francisco Bay Area.