Health | HIV
The Origin of HIV Dr Shay Keating gives us an insight into the origin and history of the virus we now know as HIV In 1981, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, in their ‘Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report’ (MMWR) cited 5 cases of pneumocystis pneumonia in gay men in Los Angeles, and 26 cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma in gay men in New York and California. These opportunistic infections are caused by pathological agents such as bacteria, viruses or funguses that take advantage of certain clinical situations, such as immune deficiency, and do not cause disease in the healthy. In 1983, the cause of this Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) which resulted in these opportunistic infections, was discovered and called the Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV. In the next thirty years, research into the diagnosis and treatment would be successfully carried out. We can now confidently diagnose HIV infection weeks after exposure. There is currently no cure for HIV, but we do have effective treatment at our disposal in the developed world. The origin of HIV and AIDS has been the subject of much debate and controversy since the beginning of the epidemic. Some discredited theories on the origin of HIV include its engineering by the US military, for ‘bio warfare’ and ‘population control ‘and 54 EILE Magazine
its testing on prison inmates, through whom it was spread to the population at large. Some conspiratory theorists believe that the smallpox virus was deliberately ‘laced’ with HIV for spread during mass vaccination campaigns. The ‘Duesberg Hypothesis’, promoted by biologist Peter Duesberg in U.C. Berkeley, argued that HIV was an accidental finding in those with AIDS, and that AIDS was caused by non-infectious agents such as illicit drug use. Thabo Mbeke, former President of South Africa attributed AIDS to poverty, chronic disease, malnutrition and other environmental factors, and was reported to have claimed that Western drug companies were promoting the view that HIV caused AIDS to increase sales of anti-HIV drugs. These theories have been rejected by scientific consensus. Zoonoses are diseases and infections which are naturally transmitted between animals and humans. The most striking and devastating example of an emerging disease resulting from cross-species transmission from non-human primates (NHPs) to humans, is that of HIV/AIDS. It has been postulated for years that HIV evolved from a closely related virus, one that affected NHPs. HIV belongs to a group of viruses
termed ‘lentiviruses’. This means that they have a long incubation period. Another such lentivirus is the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus or SIV. This virus affects many African NHPs such as gorillas and chimpanzees. It has been estimated that lentiviruses have existed for 14 million years, and that SIV has infected monkeys for at least 32,000 years. In 1999, an SIV which very closely resembled HIV genetically was identified. By 2006, it was confirmed that HIV-1 had evolved by zoonotic infection of SIV from chimpanzees or gorillas from West Central African lowlands (SIVcpz) or (SIVgor). HIV-2 most closely resembled SIV found in sooty mangabey monkeys in western Ivory Coast, (SIVsmm). SIV infection of humans had occurred in the past, but with insignificant clinical consequences. The infection with SIVgor, SIVcpz and SIVsmm however, did have a major global health impact. By phylogenetic analysis (analysing genetic blueprints) it has been estimated that all of these three strains of SIV infected humans in the late nineteenth century or early twentieth century. Continued on Page 56
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