USC University of Southern California

Ostrow School of Dentistry Researchers Investigate HIV Shedding in Saliva

Research led by the Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC has documented the important relationship between oral and overall health and the likelihood of passing HIV through saliva.

As part of the multi-center, National Institutes of Health-funded Women’s Interagency HIV study, professor Mahvash Navazesh and her colleagues from the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the University of Illinois at Chicago examined hundreds of HIV-positive women.

Blood and saliva samples taken at six-month intervals over five and a half years were tested to determine the amounts of HIV and CD4 immune cells present in each.

“With a lowered CD4 cell count, the disease progresses faster and with an increased viral load, there’s a higher risk of shedding the virus in saliva,” Navazesh said.

Blood, semen, vaginal and cervical secretions, and breast milk are established sources of HIV transmission. Saliva, although it has a much smaller likelihood of transmitting HIV, should not be ignored, Navazesh said.

“The possibility of transmission of HIV and other viruses through saliva remains feasible if oral and systemic health is compromised,” she said.

Medication-induced dry mouth and oral infections that cause gums to bleed are just two of the problems that HIV infected patients are often faced with, Navazesh added.

To her knowledge, the study appears to be the first comprehensive investigation of both systemic and oral health parameters in HIV-infected women, she said.

“When there is more bleeding in the mouth due to gum disease, there is more shedding of the virus in saliva,” Navazesh said. “When there isn’t enough saliva, there is more shedding as well.”

The findings reiterate the importance of comprehensive, attentive health care – including good dental care – for HIV-positive patients, Navazesh explained.

“Controlling the amount of virus in the body is, of course, one of the highest priorities, but it’s important to also monitor the other factors associated with transmission risk,” she said. “Oral care is an important part of overall health care, especially for individuals with serious, immunosuppressive conditions such as HIV infection.”

The study appears in the October 2010 issue of the Journal of Dental Research. (Navazesh M, Mulligan R, Kono N, Kumar SK, Nowicki M, Alves M, Mack WJ. Oral and Systemic Health Correlates of HIV-1 Shedding in Saliva. J Dent Res. 2010 Oct;89(10):1074-9.)