Monday, 22 August 2011

On The Origins Of HIV (part 1 of 3)

It was estimated in 2009 that a staggering 33.3 million people were infected with HIV. To put this into some context, that’s more than half the population of Britain infected with a virus that will most likely result in their death. HIV infection leads to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) which leaves sufferers at the mercy of a plethora of diseases which are often harmless to a healthy individual. What I’d like to look at with you for my first three posts is where HIV came from. Is it some blight set upon us by a vengeful God? Was it designed in an American research lab? Is it a biological warfare attack on blacks and homosexuals? I think it’s pretty safe for me to say no, no and no to all of those options, though there are many people who believe at least one, if not more of these. Over these 3 posts I’ll take you through the reasons why I believe I can safely say no to those options before touching on some of the conspiracy theories surrounding HIV for a little amusement.

 Firstly, a quick bit of history. HIV (of a sort) first came to the forefront of the scientific community in 1981 when four homosexual men in San Francisco were found with rare infections and a fever of “unknown origin” (Gottlieb et al. 1981). Later studies of these men found them to have highly deficient immune system consistent with an acquired immunodeficiency. The virus responsible for this condition was isolated in 1983 (Barre-Sinoussi et al. 1983) and later termed the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). As more and more people were diagnosed with HIV, minds began to turn to the origins of the virus.

It had been known for some time that monkeys were susceptible to a similar disease, caused by a slightly different virus known as simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV). Genetic analysis of different SIV strains showed striking similarities between the two viruses which were far too powerful to be down to chance alone. This led the scientific community to believe there must be an evolutionary link between HIV and SIV. While the link between SIV and HIV was hypothesised it wasn’t until 1999 that credible evidence was found.

Stay tuned to find out what changed in 1999…

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