New York City health officials have uncovered a new, more aggressive strain of HIV that is drug resistant and rapidly progresses into full-blown AIDS within two to three months, as opposed to years.
The strain of three-class anti-retroviral resistant HIV, also called 3-DCR, is resistant to three of the four classes of drugs used to treat HIV.
According to The New York Times, the strain of HIV was discovered in a gay man in his mid-40s who had unprotected sex with multiple men last October. The man was also using crystal met amphetamine, an addictive stimulant drug that strongly activates certain systems in the brain. The New York Times said that the infected man tested negative for HIV in May 2003, then positive December 2004. By January, the man’s HIV did not respond to three of the four classes of anti-retroviral drugs, commonly prescribed to fight against the virus.
Scientists have seen both resistance to drugs and the rapid progression toward AIDS in the past, but never in the same patient. In this patient’s case, a speedy onset of AIDS occurred within two to three months after diagnosis – a process that usually takes 10 or more years for the average person infected with HIV to develop.
While the man’s strain remains a single case, the University’s Director of Student Health Services, Shankar A. Shetty, said the case is scary.
“To be honest, being told you have HIV is the worst news you can get,” he said. “We offer HIV testing here. We have had some people test positive and the proper drugs will be administered for their particular strain.”
He also said that the virus is not only restricted to the gay community and could easily spread to the heterosexual community through drug usage and risky sexual behavior.
“This will instill more fear in people because the fear of HIV is dying down,” said Brian Walton, a first year physics student.
Chanel Baker, a pharmacy student from Tampa said she believes the younger generation will not alter their sexual habits because of the emergence of 3-DCR.
“People might be cautious at first, but that is not going to stop people from doing what they do,” Baker said.
Public officials are also concerned with the vastly growing crystal meth epidemic in New York, which is playing a significant role in accelerating the spread of HIV. The addictive stimulant can impair judgment and increase sexual sensation.
A recent survey of homosexual men found that 25 percent had used crystal meth during the last few months, according to The New York Times. Users often mix met amphetamines with other drugs, such as Viagra, and become sexually promiscuous with other men. The survey also found that 40 percent of the homosexual men had not used condoms the last time they had sex.
“AIDS is still a very deadly disease. People have relaxed their guard because medications are available and the disease can be treated,” said Paul Arons, Medical Director of Bureau HIV/AIDS at the Florida Department of Health in Leon County. Arons said that the department is aware of the 3-DCR cases and are on “high alert.”
An investigation is underway due to the possibility that the virus developed swiftly into full-blown AIDS because of the patient’s genetic makeup or because of his comprehensive drug use, which may have caused a weaker immune system.
This case may be a false alarm or a turning point in the constant battle against AIDS. Health officials are watching to see if others experience the same strain.
Contact Shimika Clarke at firstname.lastname@example.org.