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Difference between HIV 1 and 2; HIV survival in a syringe

Dec 14, 1996

Could you explain what the principal differences are between HIV 1 and HIV 2? Secondly, could you explain how long HIV will survive in a syringe?

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question.

As far as HIV-2 is concerned, this virus is only rarely found outside of Western Africa. This is a separate virus from HIV-1 (not a strain of HIV-1). The major differences between HIV-1 (found worldwide) and HIV-2, are primarily at the genetic level. Both HIV-1 and HIV-2 cause the same disease, and are transmitted the same way. However, whereas the average period of time from infection to AIDS for HIV-1 is 10 years, HIV-2 tends to take longer than 10 years to lead to full-blown AIDS. HIV-2 tends to be a less virulent virus as compared to HIV-1. This is most likely because the levels of HIV-2 found in the bloodstream tend to be lower than that of HIV-1.

The only people who would be at risk for HIV-2 would be West Africans, and sex/needle sharing partners of West Africans. In the United States, as of June 30, 1995, there were only 62 reported cases of HIV-2 infection. This compares to the estimated 650,000-900,000 cases of HIV-1 in the USA. The vast majority of these 62 cases were in West Africans, or persons having sex or sharing needles with West Africans. In the USA, the only routine testing for HIV-2 is in the blood supply. However, DO NOT DONATE BLOOD TO BE TESTED FOR HIV-2!

If you have been at risk for HIV-2 (as described above), discuss this with your physician, who can then order an HIV-2 test, if it's necessary. Because HIV-2 is so rare outside of Western Africa, most testing clinics do not do HIV-2 testing. Home tests are also limited to HIV-1 testing only. But a physician can specially order the test if the need is there. However, if you didn't have a West African connection, you would not be considered at risk for HIV-2.

In regard to syringes, HIV (either 1 or 2) will only live outside the body for a few minutes. The longer the virus is outside the body, the weaker it gets, and the less the chance of transmission. The more blood that is in the syringe, the longer it will take for the HIV virus to die. But once the blood is dry, the virus would be dead. IV drug users often get infected through syringes since they use syringes immediately after one another. However let me point out that other bloodborne diseases, like Hepatitis B, can survive much longer outside the body as compared to HIV.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).

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