Positive versus negative: Study shows risk of infection low in serodiscordant relationships
GLENN TOWNES Special to the AmNews | 10/12/2012, 4 p.m.
A study released last year by the Swiss Federal Commission for HIV/AIDS adds credence to the long-held notion that antiretroviral medications reduce the transmission of the AIDS virus in heterosexual couples in which only one person is HIV-positive.
The study, released in May 2011, followed a similar study in 2008 by the Swiss Federal Commission and read, in part, "An HIV-infected person on antiretroviral therapy with completely suppressed viraemia is not sexually infectious and cannot transmit HIV through sexual contact." However, critics of the study contend that the study only highlighted opposite-sex couples and overlooked homosexual couples. Regardless, proponents said the findings clearly show that serodiscordant couples can enjoy a healthy and active sex life without fear of the negative partner becoming infected with the virus.
The word "serodiscordant" is commonly used to describe a couple in which one partner is HIV positive and the other is HIV negative. It is used interchangeably when describing male-female couples and same-sex couples.
The study, "HPTN 052," enrolled about 1,800 serodiscordant couples. All of the couples except one were heterosexual male-female couples. After the study began, the HIV-positive participants were randomized to either start antiretroviral (ARV) therapy immediately or wait until the infected partners' CD4 count dropped below 250 or they developed an AIDS-related illness. To participate in the study, the HIV-positive partner had to have a CD4 count between 350 and 550. Results showed that there were 39 new HIV infections among the HIV-negative participants, 28 of which could be traced directly between the HIV-positive study patients and their HIV-negative partner. Of the 28 new infections, 27 occurred in the delayed treatment group, compared with just one in the early treatment group--a whopping 96 percent reduction in new infections.
"These results allow us to imagine a world in which men and women seek HIV testing with the knowledge and confidence that they will receive a range of highly effective options for staying healthy and protecting themselves and their partners," said Mitchell Warren, executive director of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, a New York-based HIV/AIDS think tank.
To view the complete results of the study, visit www.hptn.org/research.