Thursday, December 4, 2014

Is HIV Evolving Into A Weaker Virus?

Viruses are masters at mutating.

So the big concern with deadly viruses, like Ebola and hepatitis C, is that they will evolve into more dangerous forms over time.

It looks like just the opposite is happening with HIV — although it's happening slowly.

"HIV can generate any mutation in the book, on any day," says virologist Philip Goulder at the University of Oxford.
Over a 10-year period, HIV has picked up mutations that make it slightly less virulent in parts of southern Africa, Goulder and his team reported Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

That means it could take a little longer for some people to develop AIDS if they don't get HIV treatment. The mutations push back the average time to develop AIDS in Botswana from about 10 years to about 12.5 years, Goulder says.

"It doesn't sound like a big deal," he says. "But those changes in the virus occurred in just 10 years. If we roll forward a few decades, the evolution of the virus could have a massive effect. We'll have to see if the trend continues."

Right now, though, HIV is still deadly and dangerous, Goulder is quick to point out.

"Although these findings are good news and a step in right direction," he says, "it may be decades, even centuries, before HIV stops causing AIDS. That's a long, long way down stream." npr

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