A new major study by a team at the University of Oxford, have found that the HIV virus is becoming less deadly and infectious. The virus is adapting to our immune system and changing the way it behaves.
HIV now takes longer to cause AIDS, and that, as well as the better ARVs, and other medications are helping to control the pandemic. Over 35 million people around the world are HIV positive: which means their bodies immune systems are battling the virus every day. It is no wonder that the virus has adapted to this fight.
HIV attacks the body’s immune system. So the very system in place to fight infections is under attack, which is why people with HIV have traditionally been more susceptible to other infections e.g. Hepatitis B and C, TB, and Kaposi Sarcoma (the most common HIV related cancer).
The Research Team found that sometimes the HIV virus infects someone with a stronger immune system than normal: “The virus is trapped between a rock and hard place, it can get flattened or make a change to survive, and if it has to change then it will come with a cost” according to Prof Philip Goulder from the University of Oxford. This “cost” often affects the virus’s ability to replicate and that makes it less infectious. The weakened virus is then what is passed on, and so the weakening of the virus begins.
The team studied Botswana (which has long had an HIV problem) and South Africa (where HIV arrived in numbers around ten years later). Prof Goulder said “It is quite striking. You can see the ability to replicate is 10% lower in Botswana than South Africa and that’s quite exciting…it is surprising how quickly the process is happening.” This means that in Botswana the average time for someone without medication to go from infection to AIDS has increased from 10 to 12.5 years.
It is important to remember that HIV is still dangerous, and can cause AIDS, and that an HIV positive person will be recommended to follow courses of medication, monitoring and doctors appointments for life. However early detection is your best chance of preventing long term damage to your body and passing the infection on to others. The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested.