Jefferson Scientists Find Evidence Of Potentially Infectious HIV In Semen, Despite Inability To Detect Active Virus In Blood

Can the AIDS virus still be dangerous even if it can't be detected in the body?

Apparently so. Scientists at Jefferson Medical College have found that the AIDS virus, HIV, is still present in an inactive 'latent'--and potentially infectious--form in the semen of infected men undergoing treatment with powerful, new antiretroviral therapies, even if no measurable virus can be detected in the blood.

"It suggests that even if you don't have detectable virus in your blood and are on highly active retrovirals, you should consider yourself potentially contagious sexually and practice safe sex," says Roger J. Pomerantz, M.D., professor of medicine, biochemistry and molecular pharmacology, and chief of the division of infectious diseases at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, who led the work.

The researchers report their findings Dec. 17 in The New England Journal of Medicine.

"It suggests that potential eradication of the virus may be hampered by this finding," says Dr. Pomerantz, who also directs Jefferson's Center for Human Virology. "Some scientists have suggested that if you give enough and proper drugs to a patient, you can eradicate the virus. That still may be possible--we don't know enough yet."

Dr. Pomerantz and his colleagues examined seven men, all of whom were taking highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART)--a combination therapy of protease and reverse transcriptase inhibitors--and who had no detectable virus in their blood or seminal fluid for several months.

Last year, three research groups at the University of California, San Diego, Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases showed that patients taking HAART have latently infected immune system T-cells in the blood. "We asked, could it happen in seminal fluid and could this be from the trafficking of cells from the blood?," he says.

Using a powerful molec

Contact: Steve Benowitz
Thomas Jefferson University

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