The New York Health Department announced this week the case of a man with a multiple-drug-resistant strain of HIV that developed into AIDS within months of infection.
The news prompted global reports of a possible new HIV super-strain, although AIDS experts have since called for calm.
We already know that people in a very small number of cases infected with HIV can progress to AIDS very rapidly. So the existence of this one case really doesn’t tell us anything, Andrew Grulich, associate professor of the National Centre in HIV Epidemiological and Clinical Research, told Sydney Star Observer.
Certainly should more cases emerge then that would be cause for worry but, as I understand it, it’s not the case at the moment.
President of AFAO Darren Russell told ABC News this week US authorities were being a bit alarmist and there was no evidence the man’s case was the result of a particularly nasty strain.
Russell told the Star there have been drug-resistant strains of HIV in Australia for a long time, and the case proved only that sensationalist media thrives.
The only difference is that this particular individual seemed to progress rapidly [to AIDS], Russell said.
He’s had a combination of a resistant virus and he’s progressed rapidly but I don’t think that’s particularly odd, it could be something to do with his immune system.
Experts also suggested that if the man’s case was the result of a super-strain, it would probably be less infectious and was unlikely to have spread.
Dr Robert Gallo, the co-discoverer of HIV, told Reuters multiple-drug-resistant strains usually do not transmit as easily.
The odds are enormous that it is not going to go anywhere, Gallo said. (The Chicago Tribune also noted this week the discovery of a potential HIV superbug in Canada in 2001, which turned out to be isolated cases.)
Russell said despite the media frenzy there were lessons to be learnt from the case.
I think it’s important for people to be reminded that there are resistant strains of HIV and that you can acquire them, he said. And the course of HIV is very different in different individuals.
Some progress very rapidly to AIDS within 18 months or less. Other people after 20 years still haven’t progressed.
This is also perhaps yet another reason to reconsider the idea that HIV-positive men can have sex with each other without condoms safely. There’s more and more concern now about the spread of possible resistant strains of HIV, of a syphilis epidemic, of LGV.