Contrary to last year's theories, AIDS may be transmitted through saliva, according to the research of a Harvard Medical School professor.
Dr. Jerome E. Groopman of the Harvard-affiliated Deaconess Hospital said yesterday that he has discovered the virus known to cause AIDS in the saliva of high-risk patients.
Groopman also discovered that healthy people might be carriers of the AIDS virus without exhibiting the deadly symptoms.
The finding suggests that high-risk, yet healthy people "could potentially pass [the virus] on" through saliva as well as through blood transfusions and sexual contact, said Groopman, an assistant professor at the Med School.
Previously, the virus, called HTLV-III, was thought to exist only in the blood and semen of AIDS victims.
AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), a deadly disease discovered in 1982, primarily affects male homosexuals, Haitians, Africans and hemophiliacs, weakening the body's immune system by attacking red blood cells.
Groopman, whose findings will be published in today's issue of "Science" magazine, emphasized that saliva would have to interact with red blood cells before HTLV-III can cause AIDS.
Dr. Robert C. Gallo, chief of laboratory tumor cell biology at the National Cancer Institute in Washington, who worked with Groopman in isolating HTLV-III in saliva, said yesterday that the implications of Groopman's work are serious.
It has yet to be explored how saliva might transmit the AIDS virus, said Gallo.
Last Year's Panic
In the summer of 1983; rumors that AIDS might be contracted through saliva sent shivers through communities affected by the disease.
In New York, police officers reportedly refused to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to homosexuals for fear of transmission, and commuters wore gloves to avoid contact with the disease.
Fears were quelled only when doctors reported one year ago that sexual contact and blood transfusions were the sole modes of transmission.
But "if the virus is preserved in saliva, which we have proven, it could be a significant mode of transmission," said Gallo, a leader in AIDS research who first pinpointed HTLV-III as the AIDS, causing virus last spring.
Sexual vs. Casual
"We have no [medical] proof that AIDS is not transmitted in this way," said Gallo.
However, statistical epidemiology has shown that casual (as opposed to sexual) interaction with infected saliva does not cause AIDS, he added.