U granted $1 million for HIV research

Performing oral sex might pose a greater risk for contracting HIV than previously thought, University researchers say.
A new study led by Timothy Schacker, assistant professor of medicine, received a grant of nearly $1 million to research the transmission of HIV via oral-genital contact. The grant is funded by the National Institute of Dental & Craniofacial Research.
“My own hunch, frankly, is that oral sex is unsafe,” Schacker said. “That’s an unpopular view.”
According to conventional wisdom, anal sex has been perceived as carrying the highest risk, followed by vaginal sex; oral sex was considered the least risky. But recent medical research is raising questions about the relative safety of oral sex.
A 1996 study showed that four of 12 participants were infected through oral-genital contact. Another 1996 study published in Science Magazine showed that a virus related to HIV painted onto the tonsils of monkeys caused infection.
One of only a handful in the country, the new two-year study will involve at least 200 couples, each with one partner who is HIV-infected. Straight, lesbian and gay couples will be included.
Researchers plan to counsel the couples to practice safe sex, but Schacker expects some infections will occur anyway.
Through surveys, exams and medical and dental tests, researchers will determine the means of transmission and ascertain which factors may inhibit or facilitate the spread of HIV.
A protein found in the saliva of some people is a prime candidate for a transmission inhibitor.
“Some people have genetic makeup that they just don’t get (HIV),” Schacker said.
Factors possibly facilitating the oral transmission of HIV include poor dental hygiene, herpes and low levels of saliva.