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Research Suggests HIV May Be Evolving Favorably

Last Updated: December 02, 2014.

New research in Africa suggests that the AIDS virus is getting smarter about evading the immune system while evolving into a less contagious and less lethal infection overall. The study was published online Dec. 1 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

TUESDAY, Dec. 2, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- New research in Africa suggests that the AIDS virus is getting smarter about evading the immune system while evolving into a less contagious and less lethal infection overall. The study was published online Dec. 1 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers focused on the evolution of the virus in two countries severely hit by AIDS -- Botswana, where the disease infected people earlier and more widely, and South Africa.

In Botswana, the researchers found, the virus has become more adept at bypassing the immune systems of people infected by it. However, this "appears to be beneficial in that there is a cost to HIV from this process of adaptation," study coauthor Philip Goulder, M.D., Ph.D., a research immunologist with the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, told HealthDay. "The cost is that HIV replicates less efficiently than before." In addition, the researchers suggest that powerful anti-HIV drugs are also pushing the virus to become less virulent.

In the country of Botswana, at least, "anyone who is newly infected now with HIV is less likely to suffer disease than if they had been infected 20 or 30 years ago," said Goulder. "If this process continues, HIV will cause less and less disease."

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