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J Infect Dis. 2000 Feb;181(2):498-504.

Oral transmission of human immunodeficiency virus by infected seminal fluid and milk: a novel mechanism.

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Department of Microbiology, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX 77555-1019, USA.


Salivary transmission by the 30 million human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) carriers is rare, despite kissing, aerosolization, and dental treatment. The main protective mechanism of saliva is reported to be inactivation of HIV-transmitting leukocytes by its unique hypotonicity; however, the successful oral transmission of HIV by seminal fluid and milk is unexplained. Whether seminal fluid and milk successfully transmit HIV orally by overcoming the recipient's salivary hypotonic inactivation of HIV-transmitting leukocytes was tested. Isotonic salt solution and normal donor samples of milk, colostrum, seminal fluid, and blood were studied for their ability to overcome the salivary hypotonic inactivation. All samples, in physiologic volumes, prevented the hypotonic saliva from inactivating HIV-transmitting leukocytes by providing solutes and retarding diffusion. This indicates that successful oral transmission of HIV by seminal fluid, milk, and colostrum may be due to their isotonicity, which overcomes hypotonic salivary inactivation of HIV-transmitting leukocytes.

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