A recent study has shown that HIV transmission will occur once in every nine hundred times an infected person has unprotected sex with their partner. The study also shows that this risk increases in direct correlation to the viral load of the infected person. This large study showed that if the viral load increased by tenfold the likelihood of HIV transmission increased threefold.
The final outcomes of the findings of this study indicate the many benefits of anti-retroviral medications used to lower the levels of HIV in the bloodstream. A separate study has shown the use of anti-retroviral drugs reduces the likelihood of HIV transmission by as much as 96%. These drugs are used to reduce the plasma HIV-1 viral load of individuals infected with HIV-1 and may also be beneficial in treating associated infections.
Effects of the HIV virus
The hiv virus attacks the immune system of the body making it unable to fight infections and diseases in the usual way. As the HIV progresses the immune system is gradually weakened and destroyed so that it can no longer battle life threatening medical conditions – this is referred to as the onset of full blown AIDS.
The latest study attempted to discover the risk of HIV transmission with each act of sexual intercourse. The study involved over 1,500 couples where one partner was infected and the other was not. The study determined that the viral load of the infected partners blood was the most important factor in affecting HIV transmission. Determining an average risk of infection is virtually impossible since viral load levels vary widely between individuals. The use of averages in any study may always be somewhat deceptive.
This research confirmed that the use of condoms reduce the risk of HIV transmission by 78%; it was also determined that male circumcision reduced the risk by 47%.
During the study, which took place over a period of two years, participants were regularly asked about the frequency of intercourse and whether they had used protection. The infected partners were periodically tested over the two year period in order to determine the viral load of their blood.
The uninfected partners were also periodically tested for HIV infection with genetic testing of the virus being used to determine if the infection was new.
The dangers of self-reporting in any medical research is well known and although it is possible to generalise the results they may well be specific to the local population of this particular study. During this study 86 cases of hiv transmission were recorded.
Earlier, small scale studies have been carried out in order to estimate rates of hiv transmission but these studies failed to measure the viral load of the blood in a consistent way.
Protect against infection
The World Health Organisation estimates that over 33 million people around the world are infected with the HIV infection – it is possible for anyone to catch the infection, regardless of age, gender, race or sexual orientation. The only guaranteed protection from HIV/AIDS is abstinence from sex and, if that is not possible condoms should always be used and safe methods of sex practiced.
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