Science and Tech


Rare Woman-To-Woman HIV Transmission Reported By CDC

For the first time, the CDC has confirmed that a case of woman-to-woman HIV transmission likely occurred through sexual contact.
Posted at 7:34 PM, Mar 14, 2014

For the first time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a likely case of female-to-female sexual transmission of HIV — something that's rare. 

The case involves a lesbian couple, both in their 40s — one HIV positive, the other negative when they met. In 2012 the Houston Department of Health reported the HIV negative woman contracted the virus during the monogamous relationship. (Via Flickr / Oteo

The woman who originally had the virus was diagnosed in early 2009, but by late 2010 she had stopped taking prescribed medications. 

According to the CDC, genetic tests of the virus carried by the two women were more than 98 percent identical— which is about as sure as it gets when it comes to proving one got the infection from the other. 

Although these types of cases are rare, The New York Times reports, "In numerous previous studies of women who thought they might have been infected by other women, either no genetic testing was done or the newly infected women reported other activity that could have been the cause, such as recent sex with men, drug injection or transfusions."

But in this recent transmission, the newly infected woman did not report having other sexual partners during the six months before her diagnosis nor other risk factors such as getting tattoos. 

NPR notes it's difficult for researchers to pinpoint the risk factors of infection between women, but just as with heterosexual couples, unprotected sex definitely increases that risk. 

The CDC says, "The potential for HIV transmission by female-to-female sexual contact includes unprotected exposure to vaginal or other body fluids and to blood from menstruation, or to exposure to blood from trauma during rough sex." Sharing sex toys is another "potential exposure." (Via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

The women reported that they had unprotected sexual contact, sometimes during menstruation; shared sex toys; and sometimes bled during sex, according to CNN. (Via YouTube / Rufus Rajadurai)

As a writer for Jezebel puts it, "​While this case doesn't suggest that the risk factor for women who have sex with women is any higher than it was known to be before, it's a helpful reminder that no one is immune to STI."