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Will saliva protect me from getting HIV?

Sep 15, 1999

At your site you frequently state thet GIVING oral sex to a woman involves some risk of HIV transmission. Yet elsewhere I've also read many times that experts believe that there's something in saliva which helps kill or neutralise the virus. Wouldn't this, and the fact that the HIV rate among lesbians (who presumably indulge in cunnilingus)is very low compared to gay men suggest that saliva does in fact help make giving oral sex to a woman (or to a man for that matter) safer (if not entirely safe) - or at least safer than intercourse without a condom? What's your view on this saliva theory?

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Thank you for your question.

In laboratory studies, various factors involving saliva have been found to have either a direct effect, or an indirect effect, against the HIV virus in vitro (in a test tube). Some of these factors include secretory leukocyte protease inhibitor (SLPI), thrombospondin (TSP), mucins, virus-specific antibodies, hypotonic disruption of HIV infected cells inside saliva, and other factors.

What does all this mean in real life situations? These factors may explain why the concentrations of HIV in saliva are so low. Since the concentrations of HIV in saliva are so low, activities involving saliva (such as kissing and receiving oral sex) are extremely low risk for HIV (as long as the saliva is not visibly contaminated with blood).

Will the saliva in your mouth protect you when giving someone else oral sex? We know that there have been cases of HIV transmission through giving oral sex. Theoretically, the saliva in your mouth may reduce your risk of infection to a limited extent (through these substances found in your saliva). However, since we know that HIV has been transmitted specifically through giving oral sex, realistically speaking, we know that these substances in your saliva will not provide adequate protection against infection. In other words, you cannot depend on the saliva in your mouth to protect you.

In summary, these factors in your saliva may explain why saliva is such a low risk of infection for HIV, but you cannot depend on your saliva to protect you against HIV (nor other STDs for that matter).

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

Oil-based lubricants and latex condoms
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