Scientists have raised alarm on growing Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency (AIDS) super-infection, when a person with HIV could acquire a second, new strain of HIV. A new Ugandan study, published online in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, suggests that HIV super-infection may occur as often as initial HIV infection in the general population. Previous studies have found HIV super-infection to be relatively frequent among individuals, who engaged in high-risk behaviours, but the rate of super-infection in general populations remained unclear.
The finding is particularly important because, while researchers have long known HIV can develop resistance to some drugs, it was not understood whether the virus relied on pre-existing mutations to develop resistance, or if it waits for those mutations to occur. By shedding new light on how resistance evolves, the study, reported in online journal PLoS Computational Biology opens the door to the development of new, more effective treatments.
The data was collected from 26 clinical trials. Patients were treated with a typical combination of Non-Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NNRTI) drugs, which helps block the virus from multiplying. It was found that the virus is more likely to develop resistance shortly after the start of treatment or when treatment is restarted following an interruption of a week or more. However, it is less likely to develop resistance later on and when patients do not interrupt treatment.
Meanwhile, the new study on HIV super-infection, supported in part by the United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a component of the National Institutes of Health, offers some evidence about the likelihood. In light of the study’s findings, the authors say post-test counseling for individuals newly diagnosed with HIV infection should emphasise the risk of HIV super-infection and the possible health implications of continuing practices that put them at risk for HIV.
The blood samples examined in the study were from the ongoing NIH-supported Rakai Community Cohort Study (RCCS), a community-based open study of heterosexual men and women ages 15 to 49 years old in rural Rakai District, Uganda.