Patients with HIV could have sex without condoms

The finding offers hope to couples affected by HIV Keystone

HIV patients who take effective retroviral drugs "do not pass on the virus through unprotected sex", the Swiss National Aids Commission says.

This content was published on January 31, 2008 - 08:49

Couples where one partner is HIV positive do not need to use a condom to prevent transmitting the disease - as long as retroviral therapy is followed regularly and has suppressed the virus in the blood for at least six months, it said on Wednesday.

The patient must also be free of any other sexually transmitted disease.

"These findings come from four different studies," said Bernard Hirschel, co-author of the report and an HIV/Aids specialist at Geneva University hospital.

One of the research studies was carried out in Spain from 1990 to 2003 on 393 heterosexual couples. The results showed that none of the HIV-negative partners was infected by a patient taking retrovirals, according to a paper published in the Swiss Bulletin of Medicine.

Another study in Brazil found that out of 93 couples where 43 were HIV positive, only six people were infected, and this was due to their partners not following their treatment regime.

Two other studies, one in Uganda and one on pregnant women, arrived at the same conclusions, Hirschel said.

Small impact

He said it gives hope to serodifferent couples – where one person is HIV positive and the other is not - wishing to have children. His view was echoed by the Swiss Medical Association, which said it was good news for a few thousand people in Switzerland.

"But it has to be added that in each case the patient's doctor must be consulted," warned the association's René Raggenbass.

The claim has sparked concern among Aids charities that point out that the scientific research is focused on heterosexual couples and vaginal rather than anal sex.

"The real thing missing [from the advice] is about anal sex and getting a new sexually transmitted infection," said Roger Peabody of the London-based Terrence Higgins Trust Aids charity.

But Hirschel was adamant that publishing the results of the findings was in the best interests of the public. "I know that these conclusions can provoke certain fears, but I think such credible information which relies on proven and certain facts should be made known," he said.

French Aids charity Act Up said that 40 per cent of retroviral patients still carry the virus residually despite following their treatment to the letter.

France's National Aids Council warned that the findings were not robust enough to extrapolate wider conclusions from the individual cases cited.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

According to the Federal Health Office, nearly 30,000 men and women in Switzerland tested positive for HIV between 1985 and 2006.
Estimated number of new infections per year: 750-800.
The number of new infections increased significantly among homosexual men between 2004 and 2006, but dropped among other groups.
Between 1983 and 2006, 8,418 people were diagnosed with Aids, of whom 235 died in 2005 and 165 in 2006.
To date, 5,671 people have died of Aids in Switzerland.

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