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Partners infected together - both being HIV Positive

May 30, 1996

What are the risks of two partners being HIV positve and having unsafe sex together? Is it possible for an infected person to be reinfected with a different strain of the virus? My partner and I perform all sex acts in this way. Please let us know the results. Thank you!

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

This is a very good question. If 2 HIV positive people have unprotected sex with one another, and they re-infect one another, there would definetely be a health risk involved for several reasons. First, if you have one strain of the virus, and your partner has another, more virulent strain of the virus, you can acquire that more virulent strain and the disease may then progress faster in your body. Secondly, if you have a strain of the virus that is sensitive to a given anti-viral drug, and your partner has another strain of the virus that is resistant to that drug, you can acquire the resistant strain. Therefore, a drug that was once helpful for you, may no longer work as well, if you acquire the drug resistant strain from your partner. Thirdly, it is thought that if you get more of the virus in you, that could possibly increase viral load. The higher the viral load, the poorer the outcome. Finally, there's an issue that few people think about that is just as important as HIV re-infection. If you continue to have unsafe sex with your partner, you run the risk of acquiring other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD's). In persons with weakened immune systems, these diseases can be much more severe, and much harder to treat. They can also put a burden on an already weakened immune system, and potentially make your health status worsen. As an example, if you have AIDS and then get syphilis from your partner, syphilis can run a much more agressive course. Or if your partner has herpes or genital warts (HPV), these 2 infections are lifelong infections, and you can get the infection from your partner, even if they got infected years ago. When a persons immune system is weakened, viruses tend to become active, and can be much more agressive. So, if you have AIDS, but you also get herpes or genital warts (or other STD's), these infections can become much more severe than is normally seen. So when we're talking about sex between two partners who are already positive, we're dealing with a number of issues. These include re-infection with more virulent, or drug resistant strains of the virus, and also the issues of acquiring other STD's, which in a person with AIDS can become much more severe. So safer sex is just as important, whether your partner is also positive or not. If you have further questions, please feel free to ask.

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