Background: A cohort of 93 heterosexual HIV serodiscordant couples with no prior antiretroviral use were identified in a large referral center from February 2000 to January 2006 in southern Brazil.
Methods: Review of clinic records retrospectively identified 56 cases of untreated index cases whereas 37 couples were identified prospectively. Demographics, medical, and laboratory data were obtained. During follow-up, 41/93 index cases (44%) initiated antiretrovirals (ARVs) and from 52 without ARV use, 4 were lost to follow-up. Median viral loads were used to compare transmitters versus nontransmitters (Mann-Whitney test).
Results: Sixty-seven (72%) index cases were female (49% identified during ante-natal care). Unprotected sexual intercourse as a risk factor for HIV-1 infection was significantly higher as compared to intravenous drug use (P < 0.0001) in female index partners but not in male index cases. Sexually transmitted diseases were identified in 22 cases (24%). Six HIV-1 seroconversions occurred (6.5%). In all cases index partners were not using ARVs at the time of seroconversion. Among 26 couples with a male index case, there were 4 seroconversions (15%) and among 67 female index cases there were 2 seroconversions (3%). All seroconversions occurred with virus loads >1000 copies/mL. Eight female index cases (22%) reported no condom use.
Conclusions: Heterosexual transmission occurred more frequently from HIV-infected males to females (rate ratio 3.5; CI, 95% 0.8–16.5 P = 0.259), although without statistical significance, probably because of the small sample. Transmitters showed significantly higher median viral loads (P = 0.042) suggesting that heterosexual transmission of HIV is more a function of viral load than gender of index case. ARV use may play a role in the prevention of HIV-1 heterosexual transmission. Other factors may be involved and should be further evaluated in larger cohorts.