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Man with HIV may have infected partner with a kiss

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But bleeding gums, not saliva, was transmission route

July 10, 1997
Web posted at: 8:59 p.m. EDT (0059 GMT)

ATLANTA (CNN) -- An HIV-positive man may have infected his female sexual partner through kissing, but the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the virus was apparently transmitted through blood in the man's saliva, not the saliva itself.

Both the man and his partner had gum disease and other oral problems that contributed to transmission of HIV, the CDC says, cautioning that the case does not indicate that kissing is a risky behavior for transmitting HIV.

"We have not observed any instances of HIV transmission through regular kissing," said Dr. Scott Holmberg of the CDC. "Exposure to saliva uncontaminated with blood is a highly unlikely vehicle for HIV transmission."

Researchers believe that's due to a number of factors, including low levels of HIV in saliva as well as a protein present in saliva that keeps it from infecting white blood cells.

While kissing has not been absolutely confirmed as the cause of transmission in the case cited Thursday, CDC officials concede it is the likely cause because other possible modes of transmission have been ruled out.

Despite this case, the CDC says it has no plans to change its advice regarding kissing and HIV transmission. The agency maintains there is no risk through casual contact and closed mouth or "social kissing."

Because of the potential for contact with blood during "French" or open-mouthed kissing, the CDC continues to recommend against engaging in this activity with an infected person.

In this case, the man reported his gums frequently bled after he brushed and flossed his teeth. He also reported that he and his partner usually engaged in sex and deep kissing at night, after he brushed his teeth.

The CDC says his partner also had gum disease, which weakened and thinned her gums, making it easier for the virus to get into her bloodstream.

The couple has been enrolled in a study of discordant couples (where one partner is HIV-positive and the other is negative) since 1992. As part of the study, they were periodically given questionnaires and tested for HIV. She tested positive for the first time in July 1995.

The couple reported using a latex condom during each act of intercourse and said they didn't have anal sex. During the time between her last negative test and her first positive one, the woman reported she didn't have exposure to any known risk.

The strains of HIV in both the man and woman were genetically similar, indicating that HIV was transmitted from one to the other.

 
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