[Question #372] HIV and memory loss

34 months ago
Over the past couple of years, I have participated in mutual masturbation with other men (status unknown). in all cases, the contact was brief but I imagine there could have been some exchange of bodily fluids (hand to genital)  This is the extent of my contact. No kissing, no oral, no penetration of any kind. I've never been tested for STD's as this is all I've ever done and from reading your numerous responses on medhelp, mutual masturbation is zero risk and therefore no need for testing. Over the past six months or so, I've been experiencing some memory issues (taking longer to remember names, etc) and I'm fairly young (40). I've read in several places that memory loss can be associated with HIV. Based on my sexual history as stated and recent memory issues, could there be a connection and a need to be tested? Also, can you spread some light on the issue of memory loss and HIV and when that generally occurs? 
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
34 months ago
Welcome to the forum. Thanks for your question.

You have chosen a common username. "Joe" has been used by at least two or more previous questioners, and we get many questions about low to zero risk HIV exposures, which this is. If you previously asked a similar question, I would suggest you review that reply in addition to this one.

It is true that HIV has never been known to be transmitted by hand-genital contact, which carries no risk. And in any case, to my knowledge memory loss alone has never been attributed to HIV.  The virus can be associated with dementia, but that's limited to people with advanced disease (overt AIDS) and multiple other symptoms and/or opportunistic infections always are also present.

I would also point out that the large majority of people who report memory loss of the kind described here, especially at your age, turn out to have normal memory function when tested. This is outside my expertise or the intent of this forum, but my guess is that your memory probably isn't as impaired as you might think. But if doubt or concern remains, obviously this is something to address with your personal physician. But in any case, there is no way you have HIV from the mutual masturbation episodes you have experienced.

I hope these comments have been helpful. Best wishes and happy holidays--  HHH, MD


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34 months ago
Dr. Handsfield, Thank you for your quick response. It is definitely a huge relief. This was my first post and I had read a lot of the other threads especially considering mutual masturbation. I just hadn't seen anything on point with memory loss and HIV (sorry if I missed it somewhere else).  I guess my only follow up question would be that as long as one sticks to mutual masturbation only (with no other exposures) is there any reason to test for STD's ever?
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
34 months ago
Thanks for the thanks; glad to have helped.

If your only sexual exposures are mutual masturbation, and also assuming you don't develop symptoms typical of STDs, there will never been a need for STD/HIV testing.

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32 months ago
Dr. Handsfield, I'd like to ask one further follow up as a result of a recent illness. I've always been generally healthy with the exception of the occasional cold, sinus infection etc.  I recently had what started as a cough, turned cold and now back to a cough (the other symptoms of the cold went away pretty quickly). Anyway, I had the cough checked and they said it was lobar pneumonia and am currently on antibiotics.  Being that I have never had anything like this before, I was just wondering if this could be an opportunistic infection that you refer to in your response?  And if something like this could be an opportunistic infection, given my participation in mutual masturbation (and due to the fact that I've never had anything like pneumonia before) if you would now consider testing if you were me?  For some reason, I get hung up on the "theoretically possible" scenario and wonder at what point you have it checked out just in case??  Please let me know your thoughts.  And thank you again for all the work you do here. 
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
32 months ago
Lobar pneumonia is not typically an opportunistic infection. Should you be tested for HIV? Not because of the non-risky events discussed above. OTOH, most experts would agree that HIV testing should be done whenever someone has a potentially severe illness, such as lobar pneumonia. On that basis, it would not be surprising if your doctors recommend HIV testing. If they don't, feel free to discuss it with them. If testing is done, I am confident the result will be negative, despite your pneumonia -- assuming you have not otherwise been exposed to HIV, other than the events described above.

Thanks for the thanks. I'm glad to have helped. That concludes the two follow-up questions and replies that come with each new forum question, and so closes this thread. Best wishes for a speedy recovery from your pneumonia. Trust me on this:  it's just a coincidence, having nothing at all to do with the sexual event described above.

Best wishes and stay safe!

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