June 26, 2013
The use of antiretroviral therapy (ART) prevents replication of HIV in the blood; however, a recent study indicates that shedding of HIV may continue in semen, so individuals undergoing ART can infect others through unprotected sexual intercourse.
Swiss researcher Sara Gianella Weibel and American colleagues working at the University of California in San Diego studied semen of 114 HIV-infected men receiving ART and who have sex with men. Results show that semen of 11 men contained a large quantity of human immunodeficiency viruses, although their blood viral load was very low. Gianella also found different types of herpes in eight of the 11 participants.
The researchers suggest that although some herpes viruses may remain unnoticed, such as cytomegalovirus, if they infect the male genital tract, they locally activate the immune system. This results in a build-up of immune cells, including those in which HIV replicates in the genital area. Gianella concluded that data suggests attention must be focused on other viruses in the fight to stop HIV transmission.
The full report, "Shedding of HIV and Human Herpes Viruses in the Semen of Effectively Treated HIV-1 Infected Men Who Have Sex with Men," was published online in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases (2013; doi:10.1093/cid/cit252).