September 9, 2016
This week, a study finds that starting antiretroviral treatment during acute HIV infection significantly reduces HIV DNA levels. Another study finds that incarcerated individuals are more likely to have HIV than the general population. And strains of SIV, the simian form of HIV, could potentially cross species, according to an animal model. To beat HIV, you have to follow the science!
The number of cells harboring HIV DNA reaches its highest level within the first two weeks of acute HIV infection and levels at a set-point two weeks thereafter, a clinical trial published in EBioMedicine showed. However, two weeks of antiretroviral therapy at this early stage reduced HIV DNA levels 20 fold compared to not taking antiretrovirals.
The study enrolled 90 participants in the U.S. Military HIV Research Program's clinical trials in Thailand who had been exposed to HIV very recently and had seroconverted. Most study participants were young men who have sex with men and transgender women, and about a fifth (19 participants) of participants were not on treatment.
Three years after study enrollment, participants who did not take antiretrovirals had a 316-fold higher level of HIV DNA than those who were on HIV medications. Study authors concluded that therapy very early "offers the opportunity to significantly reduce the frequency of cells harboring HIV DNA."
Prisoners around the globe are much more likely to be infected with HIV than is the general population, a study published in a The Lancet series on incarceration and HIV found.
Based on a literature review and mathematical modeling, researchers estimated that 3.8% of the 10.2 million people imprisoned worldwide in 2014 had HIV, 15.1% were infected with hepatitis C (HCV) and 2.8% suffered from active tuberculosis (TB). The situation is exacerbated by compulsory drug detention centers that hold drug users in 27 countries, often without evidence-based substance use treatment.
Overall, 146 of 100,000 people worldwide are incarcerated. In the U.S. that rate is 716 per 100,000 inhabitants, and 14% of people living with HIV are in prisons or jails each year. Because prisoners are usually released back into the community, this disease burden also poses a risk to the general population.
"The most effective way of controlling these infections in prisoners and the broader community is to reduce the incarceration of people who inject drugs," study authors concluded.
Strains of simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) whose human counterparts have not yet been found in people could still cross species, an animal model reported in Journal of Virology showed.
Researchers at the University of Nebraska infected humanized mice with various strains of SIV, including those believed to have caused the initial transfer of the virus from wild chimpanzees to humans and two strains not yet found in humans. It took multiple exposures to these latter two strains, but eventually they replicated in the mice.
The likelihood of cross-species transmission thus appears to depend on the specific variation of the virus, said Qingsheng Li, an author quoted in the press release about this study. Experiments of this type could help to identify other animal viruses that might cause epidemics in humans, the release continues. It points out that one of these is the Zika virus, which was first identified in a monkey in 1947, but has spread widely among humans only relatively recently.
Barbara Jungwirth is a freelance writer and translator based in New York.
Follow Barbara on Twitter: @reliabletran.
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