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Thursday, 29 September 2005 12:28
BNN: British Nursing News Online · www.bnn-online.co.uk
Aids virus may be weakening
Researchers at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp have suggested that the virus which causes Aids may be getting less powerful.

Scientists compared HIV-1 samples from 1986-89 and 2002-03 and found that the newer samples did not appear to multiply as efficiently and were more sensitive to drugs, contradicting other studies which have suggested that the virus is becoming more resistant.

Writing in the journal Aids, the researchers stressed that the findings should in no way lead to a scaling down of efforts to prevent the spread of HIV, and added that they were only able to compare 12 samples from each period. They were also unable to assess the full extent that drug therapy may have had on the virus.

Researcher Dr Eric Artz said: "This was a very preliminary study, but we did find a pretty striking observation in that the viruses from the 2000s are much weaker than the viruses from the eighties.

"Obviously this virus is still causing death, although it may be causing death at a slower rate of progression now. Maybe in another 50 to 60 years we might see this virus not causing death."

Keith Alcorn, senior editor at the HIV information charity NAM, said the findings conflicted with the belief that HIV would increase in potency as it infected increasing numbers of people.

"What appears to be happening is that by the time HIV passes from one person to another, it has already toned down some of its most pathogenic effects in response to its host's immune system," he said on the BBC News website.

"So the virus that is passed on is less 'fit' each time.

"This would suggest that over several generations, HIV could become less harmful to its human hosts.

"However, we are still far from that point - HIV is still a life-threatening infection."

World Health Organisation HIV expert, Dr Marco Vitoria, said other diseases such as smallpox, TB and syphilis had weakened with time.

"There is a natural trend to reach an 'equilibrium' between the agent and the host interests, in order to guarantee concomitant survival for a longer time," he said.

But he added: "This kind of change cannot be adequately measured in years, but in generations."

Will Nutland, of the charity Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "This latest study adds to the debate on an apparently confusing and contradictory issue.

"Some studies suggest recent strains of HIV are more sensitive to drugs while others claim strains are becoming more resistant.

"The study adds to the body of evidence but HIV is showing no signs of dying out in the near future."


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