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HIV only hiding, not cured

Friday October 3rd, 2014

HIV may be able to hide for years in people who seem to be cured of infection, doctors reveal today.

Italian doctors report the case of a three year old child who was diagnosed as HIV positive shortly after drug treatment was stopped.

Doctors had started the treatment after birth and continued it - even though for much of the child's life there were no signs of the virus.

Even immune system antibodies against HIV had disappeared, they report in The Lancet.

Doctors in Mississippi, USA, have reported a similar re-emergence of the virus in a baby once thought to have shaken it off.

The Italian doctors say their case is different from the American one because this baby had an especially high level of virus at birth and also suffered another infection during pregnancy.

Professor Mario Clerici, of the University of Milan, writes: "The availability of many classes of potent antiretroviral drugs has substantially decreased HIV morbidity and mortality, but these drugs cannot eradicate the virus because they do not eliminate viral reservoirs.

"The search for an HIV cure continues."

* The modern HIV epidemic began in Kinshasa, now the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the early 1920s, according to a study published today.

The virus was probably spreading globally after 1960, according to the study in the journal Science.

The global pandemic is caused by group M HIV-1 viruses - and this outbreak began in Kinshasa, according to the researchers from Oxford University, UK.

But until 1960, the group M virus spread no faster than the existing group O virus. After 1960, the group O virus stayed confined to west and central Africa, the researchers say.

The researchers say the virus spread from Kinshasa because it was a hub for commercial transport in Africa - such as the trade in ivory and bush meat.

Then later in the 20th century, it spread from African cities as they attracted large groups of male workers. This led to an increase in commercial sex and increased sexual promiscuity.

Clinics used unsterilised needles to treat sexual diseases - but spread the virus, according to the researchers led by Professor Oliver Pybus.

The early spread and epidemic ignition of HIV-1 in human populations. Science 3 October 2014 [abstract]

No cure of HIV infection in a child despite early treatment and apparent viral clearance The Lancet 3 October 2014 [abstract]

Tags: Africa | Flu & Viruses | World Health

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