BOSTON — The AIDS virus rarely exists in the saliva of infected people, so there is little chance that contact with their saliva is a serious hazard, researchers said.
They said their findings support health guidelines suggesting that casual, non-sexual contact with victims of acquired immune deficiency syndrome does not endanger healthy people.
"I can't say that saliva is incapable of ever transmitting the virus," said Dr. Martin S. Hirsch. "If it occurs, it's a very rare event."
Hirsch and colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital tested the saliva of 71 homosexual men who carry AIDS antibodies, indicating past exposure and possible infection with the AIDS virus. The germ could be recovered in the saliva of only one of them.
When they tested the blood of 50 of these men, they found the virus in 28 of them, or 56%.
"We did isolate it (the virus) from saliva. It can, on rare occasions, be there," Hirsch said. The research, however, "would suggest that saliva is not a major mode of transmission" of AIDS, he said.
'The Same Answers'
The study, directed by Dr. David D. Ho, was published as a letter in today's New England Journal of Medicine.
Hirsch said at least five other research groups have conducted similar saliva studies, adding: "I think they are coming up with the same answers. They are all finding the rate of saliva positivity is quite low."
Among these researchers is Dr. Jerome Groopman of New England Deaconess Hospital in Boston, who first reported the discovery of the AIDS virus in saliva last year.
"We know from epidemiologic studies that saliva is not an important or proven body fluid in terms of transmission," Groopman said. "If it (the virus) is infrequently there, or even frequently, it doesn't change what we already know. It's not spread by sneezing or anything like that."
The lab findings bolster studies of families of AIDS patients, which suggest that the disease is not spread through close household contact, even when relatives share toothbrushes and eating utensils with AIDS victims.