Health officials in Houston, Texas, have reported a rare female-to-female sexual transmission of HIV. The transmission took place in August 2012 between two women in a monogamous relationship; laboratory testing has confirmed that the virus in the recently infected women is virtually identical to that of her female partner, who was diagnosed in 2008 and had gone off HIV treatment in 2010. The details of the report were published in the March 14 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Transmission of HIV between women who have sex with women (WSW) has been rarely reported, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Vaginal fluids and menstrual blood are both potential modes of HIV transmission within lesbian sexual encounters. However, confirming sexual transmission between women has been a challenge, since other potential types of exposures often cannot be ruled out, such as injection drug use, heterosexual sex and use of shared sex toys.
In this case, the woman who was diagnosed with HIV was 46 years old with a history of heterosexual intercourse, but not in the 10 years preceding her diagnosis. She reported three female sexual partners in the previous five years, but had no history of injection drug use, tattoos, transfusion, transplants or any other recognized HIV risk behavior.
As reported in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report article:
The couple reported routinely having unprotected (using no barrier precautions) oral and vaginal contact and using insertive sex toys that were shared between them but were not shared with any other persons. They described their sexual contact as at times rough to the point of inducing bleeding in either woman. They also reported having unprotected sexual contact during the menses of either partner. The recently infected woman reported that her partner was her only sexual contact during the 6 months before her seroconversion.
Genetic testing of each woman's HIV strains found they were more than 98% identical, leaving virtually no doubt about the transmission -- although the specific act that may have led to the transmission is not known.
Before reading this article, how much did you know about sexual HIV transmission between women? If you're in a mixed-status relationship, do you take steps to protect yourself or your partner from these less-common possible transmission routes, including shared sex toys? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Mathew Rodriguez is the community editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow Mathew on Twitter: @mathewrodriguez.