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[671] Oral Sex Poses Low HIV Risk?

Oral Sex Poses Low HIV Risk / Study fails to find any infected people

Newsday - August 15, 2001
Laurie Garrett, Staff Correspondent

Atlanta - Oral sex poses an extremely low risk of HIV infection, according to a study released yesterday at the second National HIV Prevention Conference here.

Kimberly Page Schafer and her colleagues at the University of California at San Francisco have reached that conclusion after two years of searching for someone who has acquired HIV from oral sex. After two years and nearly 200 individuals closely studied, Schafer said in an interview, "Everyone has come up negative.

"Oral sex is safer," Schafer said. "You can get other sexually transmitted diseases from oral sex, such as gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia and herpes. But it appears that the risk from oral sex for HIV is an order of magnitude lower than for anal sex."

Schafer's group intended to put together a study comparing people who got HIV from oral sex to those who did not, and then search for factors that could explain the difference. For two years they combed sex clubs and HIV clinics from San Diego to San Francisco searching for men and women whose sole sexual activities are oral.

The 198 participants, 194 of whom are men, have a mean of three different sex partners in six months, engaging in multiple oral sex encounters. Statistically, they are far more sexually active than the average American. It is a group at high risk for HIV, since 20 percent of them report knowingly having sex with HIV-positive men, and many more admit to not knowing the HIV status of one or more partners.

Yet only one of the 198 individuals was HIV-positive, and a sophisticated test showed he had become infected years before, at a time when he practiced anal intercourse.

In a separate UCSF mathematical modeling study, Drs. Susan Buchbinder and Eric Vittinghoff calculated that the odds of acquiring HIV from any single act of oral sex with an infected partner are roughly four in 10,000, compared with odds of four in 1,000 for anal sex with a condom.

Schafer said, "Many people, especially in the gay community, turn to oral sex as a safer alternative in the age of AIDS. And with HIV rates rising, people need to remember that oral sex is safer sex. It's a reasonable alternative."

As part of their study the UCSF team is collecting saliva from all study participants, which is being analyzed for factors that may control or destroy HIV. At least four types of chemicals found in human saliva destroy HIV, or render it immobile in test tube studies. Nobody knows whether any of these chemicals are active in real life.

It is possible that the group studied was skewed to people who are more health-conscious when it comes to testing for HIV. Schafer discovered that most of the 198 individuals in her study had undergone previous HIV tests, and came to the study in hopes of being tested again. They were also far more likely than the average individual to have seen a dentist within the last six months. Exactly how those attitudes may have influenced the results isn't clear.

- A posting from intaids@hivnet.ch

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