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The Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections Reports
Caution Urged in Interpreting the Results of Transmission Study
ONLINE:   MONDAY JANUARY 31, 9:55 PM EST (GMT-5).

EXPERTS are urging caution in interpreting the results revealed yesterday of research which includes transmission not occurring heterosexually in subjects with viral loads of less than 1500, according to a report from CP.

The study, conducted by Dr. Thomas Quinn and others from Johns Hopkins University and presented at the 7th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, was conducted on straight couples in Africa.  One of the partners in each couple was HIV-positive.  With reportedly "rare" use of free condoms, 90 partners of the 415 studied became infected over the 30 months of follow-up.

"In non-condom users, viral load is the greatest predictor of transmission of HIV heterosexually," said Dr. Quinn.

The research results also included the finding that people with viral loads of 200,000 were 2-1/2 times as likely to transmit HIV than those with loads of 2000.

The research results present some optimism for the epidemic as a whole.
 
 
The Canadian Press also reported that doctors say virus levels of less than 1500 are common among HIV-positive people receiving treatment in the US.

Although the AIDS Chief at the US Centers for Disease Control was quoted as saying the news was "wonderful," she and Dr. Quinn cautioned that the situation in which the research on heterosexuals was conducted is not identical to ones where pharmaceutical treatments are used.

In particular, the possible higher immunity of people in Africa may be due to the lack of available treatment there.  As well, doctors reportedly believe that HIV levels in semen may be higher in drug-suppressed people than their non-treated low level counterparts:  studies have shown that HIV can be detectable in semen but not in the blood.

Dr. Michelle Roland of the University of California was quoted as saying that she is aware of a HIV-positive man who infected his female partner even though his virus level was believed to be undetectable.  "There is no question, no question, that this happens," she said.

The research results present some optimism for the epidemic as a whole.  Another professor at the University of California reportedly predicted a 30% reduction in the death rate of infected gays over the next 10 years, based on calculations incorporating the news.  But a 10-20% increase in risky sexual behaviour would eliminate the reduction.

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