A 46-year-old Texan lesbian woman has been tested positive for HIV by engaging in several risky behaviors in an extremely rare case of female-to-female HIV transmission. Before being diagnosed, the unnamed woman was in a monogamous relationship for six months with her partner.
The partner had been diagnosed and prescribed antiretroviral drugs in 2008 but had stopped taking them in 2010 and “lost to follow up in January 2011.” There was a 98 percent genetic match in the newly infected woman’s HIV strain and her partner’s, according to the current issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Other risk factors such as intravenous drug use, getting tattooed and unprotected heterosexual intercourse were not present in the current case, the report informed. The woman said that she had not had sex with a man in 10 years.
However, the report said, “She did indicate that her sexual contact with her partner had been rough to the point of inducing bleeding in either woman… They also reported having unprotected sexual contact during the menses of either partner.” The HIV virus can be found in vaginal fluid and menstrual blood. Despite its rarity at the outset, the case’s particulars make it less shocking.
“Anytime there’s intimate contact — even through the use of sex toys — prevention measures should be taken, especially when there’s a chance of blood contact,” opined epidemiologist at Emory University, Patrick Sullivan. Sullivan wasn’t involved in the study. “The case is a good reminder that HIV can spread during all types of sexual interactions,” he added.
The report said the woman had tested negative on an HIV antibody test when she sold blood plasma in March 2012. However, 10 days later, she had to visit a hospital emergency room with flu-like symptoms where she was once again tested for HIV. She tested negative the second time also and was given antibiotics to treat flu or cold based on the assumption that she might have those. It was 18 days later, when she went to a blood plasma center that she tested positive.
Deputy director at the CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, Amy Lansky, said, “This type of transmission is rare. But still, it’s important for discordant lesbian couples — when one is HIV-positive and the other is negative — to get medical counseling and HIV treatment.”
According to a report of AFP, antiretroviral drugs help the viral load in a HIV patient’s blood to remain so low that it is unlikely they will be passed on. But if medication is stopped by the patient, the viral load increases again, making them more likely to pass on the virus.
Acting Chief Executive at Terrence Higgins Trust, Paul Ward, told the Daily Mail that ”Modern drug treatments don’t just keep people with HIV fit and well; they can also greatly reduce the risk of infection.”
In related news, according to findings published in the Science Translational Medicine, researchers from Emory University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Merck Research Laboratories conducted a study, testing six macaque monkeys by applying a vaginal gel, which contains 1 percent of the antiretroviral drug raltegravir, to protect them from developing the simian/human immunodeficiency virus (SHIV).
When the gel was topically administered shortly before or 3 hours after virus exposure, five out of a total six macaque monkeys were successfully protected from developing the SHIV, the researchers said.
However, further studies and more research needs to be conducted before the gel can be tested on humans or used in the real world, the BBC News pointed out.
If the development of the gel is successful, it would be great news for women all over the world and lesbian couples would have an added measure to protect themselves further against the rarity of testing positive for HIV transmission through lesbian sex.
By Faryal Najeeb