Magazine article Science News

Fast Start: Sex Readily Spreads HIV in Infection's First Weeks

Magazine article Science News

Fast Start: Sex Readily Spreads HIV in Infection's First Weeks

Article excerpt

People with the AIDS virus are many times more infectious to their sexual partners in the weeks or months just after they acquire the virus than they are later on, researchers in Uganda have determined. The study confirms the long-standing hypothesis that, compared with those infected for years, people recently infected with HIV contribute to the spread of the virus in excess proportion to how often they have unprotected sex.

Identifying people with highly infectious, early-stage HIV--and treating them immediately or at least encouraging them to avoid unsafe behaviors--could prevent more new infections than do current practices, which primarily target people with advanced HIV, say Maria J. Wawer of Columbia University and her U.S. and Ugandan collaborators.

In western Uganda, where people with HIV infection survive an average of 8 to 10 years, Wawer and her team recruited some 15,000 volunteers, with or without HIV. At 10-month intervals from 1994 to 1999, study participants provided blood samples and answered questions about sexual activity and other behaviors that can spread HIV. To understand how a person's stage of infection influences the virus' transmissibility, the team identified heterosexual couples that had named each other as regular sex partners.

The analysis focused on 239 couples in which an initially uninfected person had frequent sex with an infected partner. In 72 cases, the partner at risk became infected during the study, and blood tests linked most such infections to the other member of the pair. No one in these relationships reported homosexual activity, anal intercourse, or needle use, and no one used condoms more than occasionally. …

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