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Wednesday, 4 July, 2001, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
Oral sex HIV warning
HIV cells
HIV is transmitted by oral sex
The risk of contracting HIV from oral sex may be greater than previously thought.

It has long been known that the virus can be transmitted through oral sex - but the risk was thought to be minimal.

However, research in the UK and US among gay men now suggests that oral sex may be responsible for up to 8% of HIV infections.


Instead of a handful of cases a year in the UK of HIV being transmitted through oral sex, we are seeing 30 to 50

Dr Barry Evans
Other sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis and gonorrhoea are also spread from person to person by oral sex.

Public health experts fear that the public is unaware of the dangers associated with the practice because it remains largely a taboo subject.

In addition, anecdotal evidence from other countries like the US suggests that people tend to reject messages advising them always to use condoms for oral sex.

In fact, such messages can, in theory at least, put people off condom use altogether.

Greater awareness

A report by the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) report concludes it is important for people to be more aware of the dangers and decide for themselves the level of risk they consider acceptable.

Dr Barry Evans, an PHLS expert on sexual diseases, said: "The picture that is emerging is that the risk is greater than previously thought.

"Instead of a handful of cases a year in the UK of HIV being transmitted through oral sex, we are seeing 30 to 50."

Dr Evans stressed that HIV is mostly spread through anal and vaginal sex.

Recent studies confirm that unprotected anal sex is clearly the highest risk activity, accounting for over 90% of transmission in gay men in the UK.


These adverts provide easy-to-understand information, with contact details for further advice should they want it

Will Nutland
Terrence Higgins Trust
To coincide with the public health report, the HIV charity, the Terrence Higgins Trust has begun a six-week advertising campaign, mainly in the gay press, warning of the health dangers of oral sex.

The charity's Will Nutland said: "We know from talking to gay men about their sex lives that many of them have concerns and questions about oral sex, and these adverts provide easy-to-understand information, with contact details for further advice should they want it."

Research has shown that not ejaculating into the mouth of an uninfected person during oral sex may lessen the risk of HIV transmission.

However, it will not eliminate it totally as pre-ejaculatory fluid is also capable of transmitting the HIV virus.

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See also:

25 Jun 01 | Health
Warning over Aids complacency
14 Jun 01 | Health
Safe sex campaigns 'may backfire'
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