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International News

Swiss Report on Sex Stirs Controversy at Mexico Conference

August 4, 2008

A mixed reception -- cheers, and some tough questions -- greeted a team of Swiss researchers Sunday at the 17th International AIDS Conference in Mexico City. The scientists presented their study, first released in January, which suggests serodiscordant couples can safely have unprotected sex provided the HIV-infected partner is responding successfully to antiretroviral therapy, has an undetectable viral load below 40 copies per milliliter of blood, and has no genital infections.

There was "no documented case" of HIV transmission among such couples, said panel member Pietro Vernazza, who characterized the risk as "negligible" in such a situation.

Nikos Dedes of the European AIDS Treatment Group praised the report for lifting "the fear of being a threat to partners" and restoring the right to "uninhibited experience of sexual pleasure."

But University of North Carolina researcher Nancy Padian said the study has "limited applicability" in poor nations and has "a large potential for doing more harm than good."

"This message is too broad," said Rolande Hodel, chief of the non-governmental group AIDSfreeAfrica. "People will think it's OK not to use condoms any more."

Last month in The Lancet, Australian researchers used a mathematical model to show that over a decade, unprotected sex between persons in serodiscordant couples would translate into a four-fold increase in HIV infections compared with current rates of condom use. Gay male couples having unprotected anal intercourse would fare worst, with a 4.3 percent probability of infection per year. For their model, the Australian team assumed the infected partner had just 10 viral copies per milliliter of blood.

Back to other news for August 2008

Adapted from:
Agence France Presse
8.04.2008; Christine Courcol

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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