• HIV;
  • oral sex;
  • oral transmission;
  • secretory leucocyte protease inhibitor;
  • salivary anti-HIV factors

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and many other viruses can be isolated in blood and body fluids, including saliva, and can be transmitted by genital–genital and especially anal–genital sexual activity. The risk of transmission of HIV via oral sexual practices is very low. Unlike other mucosal areas of the body, the oral cavity appears to be an extremely uncommon transmission route for HIV. We present a review of available evidence on the oral–genital transmission of HIV and analyse the factors that act to protect oral tissues from infection, thereby reducing the risk of HIV transmission by oral sex. Among these factors we highlight the levels of HIV RNA in saliva, presence of fewer CD4+ target cells, presence of IgA antibodies in saliva, presence of other infections in the oral cavity and the endogenous salivary antiviral factors lysozyme, defensins, thrombospondin and secretory leucocyte protease inhibitor (SLPI).