Prince Harry on the ‘resilience’ of those living with HIV/AIDS
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A new study published in PLOS Pathogens has revealed that HIV is more virulent when transmitted through penile-vaginal intercourse than anal same-sex intercourse. The virus, which weakens the immune system of the infected person, can be found in semen, vaginal and anal fluids, breast milk, and blood. It cannot be transmitted through saliva, sweat, and urine. According to the NHS, the most common way of getting HIV is by having unprotected anal or vaginal sex.
New research suggests that HIV’s viral charge is stronger during heterosexual intercourse due to transmission bottlenecks.
These are the number of viral particles transmitted from one person to another.
The viral particles transmitted during penile-vaginal intercourse showed “evolution opportunities” that resulted in a fitter, more virulent HIV.
This, researchers argued, could cause more severe disease.
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A more virulent form of HIV is usually associated with a reduction in helper T cells, which normally protect the body from infection.
Study authors decided to analyse T cell counts in MSM (men-who-have-sex-with-men) and non-MSM patients with HIV.
They found that when the infection was transmitted during heterosexual intercourse, subjects had a lower T cell count compared to MSM.
This indicated that the HIV charge was stronger in penile-vaginal intercourse.
“Transmission bottlenecks are expected to drive HIV-1 evolution and influence the design of prevention strategies,” the authors said.
The bottlenecks, as the study showed, depend on the mode of transmission.
“Different modes of transmission of HIV from one individual to another can exert different bottlenecks on the virus,” they explained.
This could have implications on the HIV epidemic and how it affects different people.
“These findings have implications for our understanding of HIV-1 pathogenesis, evolution, and epidemiology,” said the authors.
The study, however, only relied on general datasets coming from different populations around the globe.
It did not look at specific sex behaviours that could increase or decrease the risk of infection.
Researchers suggested that further studies are needed to look at transmission on an individual level.
No matter its viral load, HIV infection can be prevented by using condoms during intercourse.
Sharing needles, syringes, spoons, and swabs with someone else is also a potential cause of infection and should therefore be avoided.
There are medications that could prevent the infection before and after exposure to the virus.
The best way to get advice on transmission and risk reduction is to speak to a local sexual health clinic.
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