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Mucous Membrane infectivity

Sep 30, 1997

I have read recently that scientist have learned that HIV does not need a cut or abrasion to permeate mucous membrane. I believe it was a result of test they did on monkeys where they were exposed to HIV on the back of their mouths. Most ended up infected. Due to those results, a number of people now are saying that HIV can penetrate mucous membranes. Is this true? I always thought that there needed to be tears, cuts, abrasions, however slight, in the mucosa or skin in order for HIV to gain access to the bloodstream. Thanks for your help.

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question. The study you are talking about using monkeys, was a study used to confirm (in a laboratory setting), clinical case reports of HIV transmission through giving oral sex. The results of this study confirmed these clinical case reports. The study was not designed to determine what it takes for HIV to pass through a mucous membrane.

Whether HIV can pass through a mucous membrane without any cuts/abrasions (because it is so thin) is extremely difficult to prove, and quite honestly, is really not important. Since we know mucous membranes are very likely to have microscopic cuts/abrasions (because they are so thin), we already know that HIV transmission through mucous membranes is a significant possibility.

The fact is, if a high risk body fluid (like blood, semen, or vaginal secretions) gets onto a mucous membrane (head of the penis, vagina, rectum, eyes, nose, or mouth), we already know that there is a risk of infection. That is all that is really relevant or important in real life situations. Frankly, it does not make any difference as to exactly how HIV passes through mucous membranes. We know that it can pass through them, and the possibility of microscopic cuts/abrasions are very likely to occur. That is what is really important.

We also know that regular skin is much thicker than mucous membranes. Therefore HIV will NOT pass through intact skin, unless there is a fresh cut or open sore on the skin.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to e-mail me at "" or call me at 1-800-842-AIDS (Nationwide). I'm glad to help!

HIV/AIDS transmission
Oral/Anal Sex

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