HIV may become less virulent over time, study says


HIV is being “watered
down” as it adapts to our immune
systems, becoming less infectious,
according to a new study from
scientists in the UK.

The Oxford University team behind
the report said HIV’s ability to cause
AIDS is diminishing over time, with
some virologists suggesting that, as
the virus evolves, it may become
almost harmless according to the

Approximately 35 million people
around the world are living with
HIV/AIDS. More than 3 million of
those infected are children,
according to figures from the World
Health Organization. In 2013 alone,
an estimated 2.1 million people
became newly infected with HIV,
most of those infected live in sub-
Saharan Africa.
“Overall we are bringing down the
ability of HIV to cause AIDS so
quickly,” Professor Philip Goulder,
who led the study. “But it would be
overstating it to say HIV has lost its
potency — it’s still a virus you
wouldn’t want to have.”

Academics have cautioned, however,
that the time scales necessary to
render HIV harmless in this manner
are very large.

The team carried out its research in
Botswana and South Africa, observing
antenatal women with HIV from
Durban, enrolled between 2002 and
2005 and Gaborone in Botswana,
enrolled between 2007 and 2008.

The HIV epidemic started early in
Botswana not reaching South Africa
until a decade later. Looking at the
two countries, it found that HIV’s
capacity to replicate was lower in

The research also points out that
increased access to antiretroviral
therapy could contribute to an
overall accelerated decline in HIV
virulence over the coming decades.


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