Thursday, March 03, 2005

NYC's HIV Superstrain?

Dear Tin Canners:

There has been some recent news about a new HIV strain that is drug resistant and can cause rapid progression to AIDS.

In the late 80s and early 90s, I was a molecular biologist with a benchtop view of the research. Since then, I've gone onto other areas of reasearch but I still have some contact with investigators researching that area.

The other day, I got an email to go check out Retrovirology where two commentaries have been posted about the issue. This one is from a European investigator and here is one from an American researcher.

Both believe the media has over stated the danger of the case report.

If I'm reading what they say correctly, here are some considerations to think about when you hear stories about a "super" HIV-strain: (1) There is a rather wide range of time between infection and when a patient will exhibit the hallmark symptoms of the AIDS diagnosis. (2) The range could be due to the strain of the virus. (3) But more likely it is due to the genetic susceptibility factors of the patient.

They urge caution in over-hyping HIV/AIDS stories. Nonetheless, they counsel the need for more testing to slow the spread of the disease. Excerpt:
Given the availability of free, rapid testing for HIV in New Jersey, we are strongly encouraging any one with current or previous high-risk behavior to get tested and determine his/her HIV status. The best way to fight this disease is with knowledge: knowledge on one’s infection status, knowledge on how to avoid becoming infected, and knowledge on how not to infect some one else. HIV is not the common cold. It is transmitted through well-described behaviors, predominantly sex, especially receptive anal intercourse, and intravenous drug use with shared needles. These behaviors can be modified to reduce or eliminate the risk of contracting HIV. Two recent studies conclude that universal testing for HIV is a cost effective way to combat this infection in the USA. Outreach prevention education and widespread testing are probably more effective public health strategies than sensational press releases.
Stay tuned as researchers do more tests on that patient and as the medical community monitors whether more cases show up.



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