An AIDS Wake-Up Call: A Documented Case of Female-to-Female Transmission Raises a Question: Why Are Lesbians Excluded from Most HIV-Prevention Messages? (Health)

Article excerpt

When a 20-year-old woman tested positive for HIV last year, her physicians were baffled. The woman had no history of injection-drug use, blood transfusions, body piercing, or heterosexual intercourse. It turned out that her bisexual female partner was HIV-positive and that her partner's physician had counseled her to use protection only with her male partners, since female-to-female transmission is considered so rare.

According to the February 1 issue of the influential journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, this is among the first documented cases of HIV transmission through female-to-female sex. Working together, researchers at two Pennsylvania hospitals matched the genotype of the HIV strain of the two women, which included six identical mutations that made it resistant to several anti-HIV medications.

With HIV-prevention efforts in the United States largely focused on male-to-male and male-to-female transmission, the report could become a wakeup call to public health officials and AIDS educators who have spent little time or resources reaching out to women who have sex with women.

"There are many, many lesbians who are being told they're not at risk for HIV," says Dawn Harbatkin, a board member of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and director of medicine at the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in New York City. "Many women who have sex with women believe they have nothing to worry about. That's exactly the situation that facilitates new transmissions of HIV."

Adds Talata Reeves, director of women and family services at Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York City: "What's so striking about the Pennsylvania case is that the HIV-positive partner was advised by a physician to use protection only with male partners. It speaks to the mythology that women can't get HIV from their female partners, shared by doctors and the larger community alike."

The Clinical Infectious Diseases report speculates that the 20-year-old contracted HIV from her female partner of two years through vaginal bleeding. "Sexual practices included sharing of sex toys and oroanal and orogenital contact, which never occurred during menses but which was occasionally traumatic enough to draw blood," it states. …