Mutating Strands of HIV
July 16, 2003 5:15 AM   Subscribe

First Documented Case of HIV hybridization in a human being was presented at the International AIDS Society conference in Paris. In this case, genetic tests on a superinfected woman showed that the two strains she was infected with swapped genetic material, creating a new hybrid strain of HIV. The actual effects are not yet clear, but this could pose a serious problem for researchers trying to create a vaccine.
posted by Irontom (8 comments total)
Here's another, slightly different article from the Dallas News.
posted by Irontom at 5:16 AM on July 16, 2003

More bad news: Tenth of H.I.V. Cases in a Study in Europe Are Resistant to Drugs. On the bright side, according to noted epidemiologist Moammar Gadhafi, straight Africans don't get AIDS. (Also: mosquitoes and tsetse flies are God's armies, protecting Africa from foreigners.)
posted by stonerose at 5:24 AM on July 16, 2003

you just can't throw your business all over the street...
posted by aiq at 7:48 AM on July 16, 2003

Mutation and hybridization are what have truly scared me for a long time. What scares me even more, though, how is the Pat Robertsons of this world are going to use this fact as further evidence of Divine Retribution...

OK, am I the only one around here old enough to think the phrase "Divine Retribution" would mean being beaten senseless by a six foot tall, three and fifty pound drag queen in cha-cha heels? Sorry, I just had to ask...
posted by JollyWanker at 8:02 AM on July 16, 2003

Not to make light of the situation... but I'm going to make light of the situation:
Uh.. excuse me, there's an emergency at the lab. It seems that "Bond-4" has eaten through its beaker. If it gets into our water system, we're all goners.
posted by KnitWit at 8:14 AM on July 16, 2003

HIV hybridization can occur in humans only when someone is superinfected, yes? This seems to be apparent from the article, but I'm not exactly a virologist.

The woman in this study became superinfected because she continued to engage in prostitution after her initial diagnosis:

She had first been tested in 1986 and was found to be infected only with HIV-1 subtype A. Despite continuing exposure to the virus through her work as a prostitute she remained relatively healthy.

Which would suggest that she's also served as a vector for the superinfection of other individuals, perhaps leading to more hybrid forms of the virus. And according to the article, hybridized strains of HIV can be more resistant to current treatments.

So focusing efforts on increasingly ineffective AIDS drugs, and preaching abstinence is arguably serving to worsen the African pandemic. It would seem that the world would be far better served by promoting safe sex practices and prevention, in addition to pursuing better treatment for those already infected.

But the AIDS assistance promised by the United States carefully avoids the promotion of condom use as a means of prevention, thus eroding the effectiveness of the very drugs it plans to provide.

Am I missing something here?
posted by aladfar at 8:28 AM on July 16, 2003

Aladfar: you're not missing a thing. Superinfection is required for hybridization, and safe sex education is one of the pillars of real (as opposed to political window dressing) AIDS prevention programs. Another note on the supply of generic drugs to sub-Saharan Africa: given the almost complete lack of any health or health education infrastructure, I think we can expect this program to create a massive pool of suboptimally treated virus -- that is, a perfect environment for the development of drug resistance. Let's just hope that Africa doesn't find itself on the unlucky side of the low (but, we now know for certain, non-zero) probability of hybridization between strains resistant to different drugs. (Obfulldisclosure: I used to do research on HIV-1 replication, with an eye to drug design/discovery. Vaccines are sexy but until we have one against HIV -- and for many years after its initial implementation -- a lot of people are going to be relying on drug-based treatments.)
posted by sennoma at 9:33 AM on July 16, 2003

Billy Crystal playing Fernando Llamas: This is bad, very, very bad. But you look mahvelous, dear, simply mahvelous. Yet extremely deadly, mahvelously deadly. Do not kiss me. Ever.
posted by billsaysthis at 2:46 PM on July 16, 2003

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