Posts tagged HIV transmission
When it comes to the poorest nations of the world, an inexpensive means of fighting the spread of HIV is vital. Researchers may have found just such an ally according to a recent study of how vitamin D affects the immune system response to HIV. What did they find?
The Test Subjects
The study was performed using 100 young individuals, half from the Cape area in Africa and the other half from the Xhosa indigenous tribe. Blood samples were taken from the healthy individuals during the sunny summer months when vitamin D levels are the highest and again during the winter when they are at a seasonal low due to less sun exposure. During the winter, both groups proved to be vitamin D deficient, and the women who were in the study suffered even more from the deficiency than men.
Exposure to HIV-1
Next, these blood samples were exposed to HIV-1. After giving the virus nine days to work, the samples were tested. The amazing result was that the vitamin D deficient winter samples were more prone to infection than the summer samples with normal vitamin D levels.
The deficient individuals were next given a six-week supply of vitamin D supplements to get their levels back to normal. Then their blood was taken and tested again. Infection rate was reduced back to what it had been for the summer samples. The results were clear – vitamin D was helping ward off the disease.
While there is no immunization for HIV, this study reveals that vitamin D can reduce the chances of infection. Since vitamin supplements are far less expensive than vaccinations, this is also a far more viable solution for reducing the risk of infection in developing countries. Also, additional health benefits associated with vitamin D would be achieved by combating deficiency. It’s a win-win for some of the underdeveloped countries that are the hardest hit by the spread of HIV.
In early 2010, scientists at the University of California San Diego’s Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) discovered that seminal HIV infection among men who have sex with men is transmitted through the HIV cell’s RNA, and not the DNA as was previously thought. Later that year it was determined that this is also the case for women who are infected through sex with men – that is, through HIV cells in semen transmitting their RNA structure to the newly infected individual. Understanding this connection is critical, because, “If we want to stop the HIV epidemic, then we must know the mechanisms by which HIV uses human sex to spread,” according to the principal researcher, Davey Smith, MD, MAS. Smith is an associate professor of medicine at the University of California’s San Diego’s Division of Infectious Diseases, and is director of the CFAR’s Viral Pathogenesis Core.
The scientists made this initial discovery of the virus’s transmission by studying male partners in which one man had recently infected the other man. They compared the genetic characteristics of the HIV cells in both partners, knowing that the virus mutates at an extraordinary rate. They learned that there was more of a shared commonality between the viruses found in the seminal plasma – the semen and fluids surrounding them – than the viruses that were located in the seminal cells. HIV’s DNA is commonly found in the host’s cells, where RNA is mostly stored in the host’s plasma. With this asymmetrical commonality between the virus found in the plasma versus the virus inside the host’s cells, the scientists were able to locate the culprit of the initial transmission, which is the virus’s RNA; with this asymmetrical commonality found in every partnership of the men they studied, they determined that it is not a mix of HIV RNA and DNA infecting an individual, but that the RNA, alone, was the transmitter.
Now knowing this source of HIV transmission, scientists and researchers have been able to develop several weapons against HIV infection over the past five years. The HIV cells in semen are now understood more, and with this understanding researchers have been able to determine and develop several things. One discovery is that if a person has no detectable amount of HIV in their bloodstream, as they have been recently infected or because they are taking a successful regimen of antiretroviral medications, there can still be a contagious amount of HIV cells in their semen – and though the possibility of infection is low at that point, it is still possible. Researchers have also been able to develop vaginal gels and ointments – called vaginal microbicides – which are able to attack the HIV cell’s RNA before transmission can take place by infected semen, along with further developing antiretroviral medications which target the virus’s RNA and make it impotent towards further transmission. Though this discovery has not led to a cure within the past five years, it has certainly brought us closer to that possible cure, and has helped prevent further transmission of HIV for thousands.
Prevent the Spread of HIV Infection: Nanofiber-Based Technology Could Help
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is spread through direct contact with blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, vaginal fluids, fecal matter, breast milk, and other heavy fluids that our bodies produce. This virus attacks the T lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that is a part of your immune system and prevents infections and diseases. Without treatment to prevent the virus from replicating itself, these T Cells eventually will become depleted. It is estimated that more than one million people over the age of thirteen are living with HIV infection. Of this number, roughly two hundred thousand infected people are unaware that they are HIV positive. The current therapies that stop the virus from replicating and spreading through the bloodstream will also stop the negative effects of HIV. However, they do not completely rid the body of the virus and do not prevent the possibility of further infection from occurring. Fortunately, there are new treatments in development that could actually prevent the spread of HIV infection around the world.
Of these new forms of prevention being developed, a group of researchers based out of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Pharmacy are testing a novel nanofiber-based technology. The aim is to prevent the transmission of HIV through vaginal mucus membranes. This vaginal-based drug is applied to the area prior to sexual contact, and is designed to take effect upon the presence of semen enzymes. The drug inactivates and kills any present HIV cells in the enzymes—prior to exposure and penetration of vaginal fluids. This is the main cause of heterosexual HIV transmission, HIV infected semen enzymes penetrating into the vaginal fluids and infecting the host, and this technology has been shown to effectively prevent the spread of HIV infection in this matter. They are working on using this technology in male-to-male sexual contact as well, and preliminary research looks positive.
HIV and Bacteria: Good and Bad Bacteria in the Body
The fact that our bodies are carriers of bacteria is not something we like to think about, but it is a fact of life. Some of these bacteria, however, are healthy, and actually work to our advantage. In the case of HIV and bacteria, some can actually fight transmission of HIV between partners. There are other good bacteria colonies in the body that prevent the transmission of STDs. Of course, with the spread of STDs on the rise, it’s questionable why these bacteria aren’t as effective anymore. There are several reasons for this.
For one thing, we alter the good bacteria by sometimes inadvertently destroying it; at other times, by simply inhibiting its ability to do its job. Some of the things that researchers are looking into are the effects that various medications, contraceptives and douche solutions have on good bacteria found around and in our sexual organs. Antibiotics, for example, attack both good and bad bacteria, which is why they may cause digestive issues.
In the case of HIV, good bacteria can actually fight the transmission of the virus between partners. If someone has HIV, good bacteria can help antiretroviral treatment take effect. Conversely, in the case where good bacteria are not present—or worse, taken over by “bad” bacteria—the disease then may worsen. Or, it can make a person may be more prone to sexually transmitted diseases and other infections. When the bacteria in the body are out of balance, antiretroviral drugs may not be as effective as well. It’s a delicate balance that our bodies maintain.
So what can you do to ensure that your body’s defenses are at their best? This has to do with improving one’s health and making smart, healthy lifestyle choices. Eating a healthy diet, exercising, and getting proper sleep are all vital to maintain the body’s delicate balance. Eliminating bad habits like smoking are also vital to maintaining proper immune system health.
To a great degree, a body’s ability to fight disease is the result of how well it’s been taken care of. This makes it vital to educate young people about good health practices. In the case of HIV and bacteria, and its role in reducing transmission, it’s important to treat your body right. When you do, your body will return the favor by doing its best to fight off disease.
A World Without AIDS: How Far Off?
If you are middle-aged or older, you may remember a world without AIDS. After all, it didn’t become a commonly known or understood disease until it started taking the lives of some famous individuals in the 1980s. Today, it is a worldwide epidemic with more than 35 million HIV-positive individuals across the globe. With we ever see a world without AIDS again? That was the question posed at a convention held this past year.
Researchers and top physicians gathered from around the world to discuss the steps involved in getting rid of HIV and AIDS for good. Hopes are high because of the emergence of a few cases of cured individuals. In fact, the first man ever cured from the disease addressed the audience of doctors and researchers, inspiring them to reach their ultimate goal. However, while we wait for the dream of an HIV free world to come about, what else is being done for those who have the disease and what is being done to reduce transmission?
Antiretroviral treatments exist today that allow people with HIV to live a normal lifespan. Of course, this has led to other previously unknown complications of the disease. Now that HIV no longer quickly advances to AIDS, cutting a person’s life short, doctors are discovering that HIV can cause many secondary problems. One of these complications is a series of neurological problems.
Other issues involve the fact that many HIV-positive people around the world live in poor countries. Some of these countries can’t afford proper screening to identify HIV-positive individuals. Others don’t have the refrigeration needed for various treatments. Additionally, most of these nations can’t afford to provide treatment for people who can’t afford it themselves.
This means that, at least for now, the war on HIV is about preventing its spread. This means education for those in the highest risk categories for becoming infected. It also means developing regular and affordable screening for all. These are some of the goals that major contributors to the cause—such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—are working towards.
In the meantime, it is important for everyone to follow safe sex practices to avoid contracting HIV. It also involves a willingness to get tested. Finally, it means sticking closely to a treatment regimen if you are infected with the disease. This is what individuals can do to play a role in eliminating HIV and AIDS for good. It is a wonderful goal: to once again see a world without AIDS.