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Clin Infect Dis. 2013 Aug;57(3):441-7. doi: 10.1093/cid/cit252. Epub 2013 Apr 17.

Shedding of HIV and human herpesviruses in the semen of effectively treated HIV-1-infected men who have sex with men.

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University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0679, USA.



Current antiretroviral therapy (ART) suppresses human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in blood to undetectable levels in most infected individuals; however, some men shed HIV in semen despite suppressed levels in blood.


This study included 114 chronically HIV type 1-infected men who have sex with men, who were receiving ART with blood plasma HIV <500 copies/mL. Asymptomatic participants were screened for bacterial sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and nonspecific genital inflammation. Levels of HIV and 7 human herpesviruses were measured by real-time polymerase chain reaction in seminal plasma. Predictors of HIV seminal shedding were determined for the entire cohort, and on the subset of 100 subjects with blood plasma HIV <50 copies/mL.


Eleven subjects (9.6%) had detectable levels of seminal HIV (median, 2.1 log10 copies/mL), and 72 (63.2%) had at least 1 herpesvirus detected in their seminal plasma. Detectable levels of seminal HIV were present more often in persons with plasma HIV between 50 and 500 copies/mL compared to those <50 copies/mL (P values adjusted for false discovery rate [FDR] = 0.08). There was a trend for high-level cytomegalovirus (CMV; >4 log10 DNA copies/mL; FDR-adjusted P = .08), and presence of Epstein-Barr virus (FDR-adjusted P = .06) in semen to be associated with detectable seminal HIV levels. In a subanalysis of 100 subjects with blood plasma HIV <50 copies/mL, high levels of CMV in semen was the only significant predictor for seminal HIV shedding.


Low-level HIV replication in blood and high-level seminal CMV shedding, but not presence of asymptomatic STIs, is associated with seminal shedding of HIV in men receiving ART, conferring a potential risk for HIV transmission.


HIV shedding; HIV transmission; antiretroviral therapy; cytomegalovirus; semen

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