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Instead of infiltrating breaks in the skin to gain access to immune system cells, like researchers have thought before, HIV was found to attack normal, healthy genital tissue in women. Scientists had very little understanding of the details of how HIV transmits sexually in women and this finding offers insight into how the AIDS virus spreads.

Normal lining of the vaginal tract was thought to act as a barrier to invasion by the virus during sexual intercourse. However, normal, healthy skin is vulnerable.

Researchers from the Northwestern in Chicago and Tulane University in New Orleans developed a new method for watching the virus at work. They took the newly removed vaginal tissue from hysterectomy surgeries and introduced the virus, which carried fluorescent, light-activated tracers, to it. They then used a microscope to watch the virus penetrate the outer lining of the female genital tract, called the squamous epithelium. They also observed the same process in nonhuman primates
In both human and nonhuman cases, HIV was able to quickly move past the genital skin barrier to reach immune cells, which the virus targets.

They believe that the virus takes aim at places in the skin that had recently shed skin cells, in much the same way that skin on the body flakes off.

This new finding casts doubt on previous theory of the virus requiring a break in the skin or gaining access through a single layer of skin cells that line the cervical canal.

It also explains why some prevention efforts fail. When testing in Africa where women used a diaphragm to block the cervix as a prevention method, no effects at reducing transmission of the virus have been seen. Studies of drugs designed to prevent lesions in genital herpes haven’t proven effective neither.

These new findings emphasize the need for the use of condoms, which are highly effective at preventing infection.

People should be additionally educated about their vulnerability. The sad thing is that if people only used condoms, there would be almost no transmissions.


This is important information indeed. Thank you for sharing with us.


Yes, people should know (and the awareness is something we should all rise at all times) that everyone is exposed and no one is safe unless they learn to protect themselves from the growing incidence of HIV infections.