HIV Detected in Semen of Those on HIV Meds

Published: May 10, 2012

Several new studies show that some on antiviral therapy may have enough HIV in their semen to transmit the virus to others. The studies also suggest that the highly promising approach of reducing HIV transmission by putting people with HIV on antivirals may have some limitations.

That may be even more the case for men who frequently have sex with other men (MSM).

Many HIV-infected MSM continue to engage in unsafe sex exposing themselves to sexually transmitted infections (STIs). However, these promote HIV replication and transmission. With that risk in mind researchers sought to determine how many men on HIV antiviral treatment, or HAART, have HIV in their semen.

The study, which appears in the journal AIDS, recruited 101 men from The Fenway Community Health Center in Boston. All had been on HAART for over three months with 80% of them on treatment for over a year. The researchers measured levels of HIV in both the blood and semen. They also checked for other infections that might be increasing HIV levels.

Almost two out of ten men in the study had detectable HIV in the blood despite being on HAART. However, three out of ten men in the study also had HIV in their semen. Those levels were high enough to potentially spread HIV through sexual contact.

"It has been shown before that HIV levels in peripheral blood are an important predictor of seminal HIV," explained lead author Joseph Politch, PhD, professor in obstetrics and gynecology at Boston University.

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