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HIV Less Deadly as Virus Evolves, New Study Shows

Image: HIV Less Deadly as Virus Evolves, New Study Shows
A technician takes samples in a laboratory alongside a ribbon promoting the World Aids Day. (Farooq Naeem/AFP/Getty Images, file)

By    |   Tuesday, 02 Dec 2014 12:42 PM

HIV is less deadly as it continues to evolve, becoming slower and slower at developing into AIDS, a new study shows.

"Overall we are bringing down the ability of HIV to cause AIDS so quickly," Philip Goulder, a professor at Oxford University who led the study, told Reuters.

"But it would be overstating it to say HIV has lost its potency — it's still a virus you wouldn't want to have."

Goulder's team examined more than 2,000 women with HIV for the study. Some of the women were from Botswana, which has a long history of infection, and some were from South Africa, where the disease arrived a decade later.

The longer a disease lives among a population, the more likely it is to encounter and infect someone with a strong immune system. In an attempt to evade a strong immune system, HIV is likely to mutate into a less damaging form — one that doesn't replicate as fast. If it is then transmitted to another person, that weakened form carries on.

"[Then] the virus is trapped between a rock and hard place, it can get flattened or make a change to survive and if it has to change then it will come with a cost," said Goulder.

In the field, that meant that the interval between contracting HIV and developing AIDS was 10 percent longer in Botswana than it was in South Africa. That evidence suggests that HIV could in a sense render itself a less-serious disease, however the timeframe for such an eventuality is unclear.

It's "a sort of incremental change, but in the big picture that is a rapid change," said Goulder. "One might imagine as time extends this could stretch further and further and in the future people being asymptomatic for decades."

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HIV is less deadly as it continues to evolve, becoming slower and slower at developing into AIDS, a new study shows.
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Tuesday, 02 Dec 2014 12:42 PM
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