- CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (AP) -- A study has found that the AIDS virus
can mutate into separate strains in a patient's semen and blood, suggesting
the infection may be craftier and harder to treat than previously thought.
- The findings challenge the widely held
belief that an individual can harbor only one strain of the AIDS virus.
- The researchers urged the development
of drugs that attack blood- and semen-based viruses separately.
- The research involved 11 HIV-infected
men in North Carolina and Switzerland. Some of those who were treated prior
to the study had AIDS strains that had mutated and developed resistance
to antiviral drugs.
- In most of the volunteers with these
resistant viruses, their sperm and blood were found to contain different
- Protease inhibitors, a powerful class
of AIDS drugs, did not penetrate the male genitals, or did so only with
great difficulty. In one patient, resistance to the drug AZT was encountered
in the sperm virus, but only later in the blood virus.
- 'Potential reservoirs of virus ... can
- The researchers concluded that the male
genitals and the bloodstream act as separate "compartments,"
which have to be dealt with independently when giving AIDS drugs.
- "Our observations may have substantial
consequences for newly infected individuals and for public health,"
wrote the researchers, Dr. Pietro Vernazza of St. Gall Cantonal Hospital
in Switzerland and Dr. Joseph J. Eron of the University of North Carolina
at Chapel Hill.
- The findings were releassed Wednesday
and are to be published in the October 22 issue of the journal AIDS.
- Dr. Oren Cohen of the National Institute
of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said the research mostly confirms previous
studies that determined that the disease can be compartmentalized in the
- "It also shows there are potential
reservoirs of virus that can persist even when they are at undetectable
levels," he said. "It's a red flag that we can't become too complacent."
- But Cohen expressed concerns about the
small number of people studied.