You may not have to start chugging soy sauce after all! Scientists are finding HIV may just be evolving in a way that is beneficial to the carrier.
That may sound very shocking, especially if you know a thing or two about viruses. Just like all other forms of life, viruses evolve to better survive in their environments. With most viruses, this can be very dangerous for the lifeforms they infect– they get stronger, they are able to infect in new ways, and they can combat medication. This is very dangerous for infected people, and very perplexing for scientists.
As you may remember from our earlier article on HIV/AIDs, AIDs is first contracted as HIV before developing into the more dangerous disease. AIDs happens when HIV kills off enough CD4 cells, which are immune system cells, or when certain diseases develop, like HIV-related cancer.
A certain gene possible in the human body, HLA-B*57, has been found to give a boost to the infected person’s immune system. Like any virus, the HIV in patients who have the HLA-B*57 gene began to adapt to this gene.
But these adaptations came at a cost for the virus: HIV can no longer replicate as quickly as it once did, meaning that it’s become less lethal and less likely to transform into AIDs.
And that’s not the only good news. A mathematical model found that treating those patients who are the sickest with antiretroviral drugs has increased this adaptation, meaning that the virus replicates far less and, in the end, making it less lethal. Could this mean that even those born without the gene could one day have the same protection from taking these ART drugs?
As our medicine get better, we also begin to understand more and more about this dangerous virus and how it operates. We may see AIDs become as non-existent as smallpox during our lifetimes, and we may also see HIV become as treatable as other, simpler chronic illnesses. This is fantastic news.
HIV currently impacts 35 million people in the world, with Botswana and South Africa– the two countries in which this study took place– being among the most heavily hit. In the past three decades since its discovery, over 40 million people have died from AIDs.
Research has found that wearing any FDA-approved condom (except the Trojan NaturaLamb) is the number one way to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDs. Frequent testing and the application of PrEp drugs, like Truvada, can also decrease the likelihood of catching it or passing it unknowingly to others.