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Wednesday, 11 April, 2001, 15:41 GMT 16:41 UK
Threat from drug-resistant HIV
Testing revealed the increase in resistant strains
Figures obtained by the BBC say that a quarter of newly-diagnosed HIV positive patients have strains resistant to existing drugs.

A steady rise in this problem threatens an explosion in Aids deaths in the next decade unless more money is invested to stop people contracting the virus, say campaigners.

At present, Aids deaths in the UK have been reduced by the widespread use of three types of anti-HIV medication - so-called "triple therapy".

However, the virus is capable of regular mutations which allow it to survive the combination of drugs.

It's a pandemic on a scale which is unimaginable

Professor Roy Anderson, Imperial College
Professor Roy Anderson of Imperial College, London, who issued some of the first warnings about the potential threat from HIV, said: "We can't rely on the drugs. It has created complacency in developed countries.

New drugs

"It's the biggest threat to human society - it's a pandemic on a scale which is unimaginable - it's going to kill hundreds of millions."

Dr Mike Youle
Dr Youle: "problem won't go away"
New classes of HIV drugs, such as the T20 "fusion inhibitors", are arriving, but there are signs that HIV is managing to mutate to beat them even at this early stage of their use.

Figures from the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) in the UK obtained by the BBC's Newsnight programme suggest that a quarter of new HIV diagnoses involve drug resistant strains.

This represents a five-fold increase over the past four years.

Dr Mike Youle, from the Royal Free Hospital in London, is helping introduce the T20 drugs into the UK.

He said: "It is easier for the public, and public health deliberators, to think that the HIV epidemic is over, and there are no problems, and that all treatments are effective and are going to do the job forever.

"We realise that this is not the case."

Professor Anderson: "It will kill hundreds of millions"
A spokesman for the Department of Health said that the implications of the PHLS study would be studied.

A sexual health and HIV strategy was close to publication, he added.

Sir Norman Fowler, the minister in charge when the original "Don't Die of Ignorance" advertising campaign was conceived, told Newsnight that once again, prevention of HIV spread was the key.

He said: "It underlines the case for prevention.

"The campaign I organised in the 1980s, or campaigns similar to that, should continue."

While deaths from Aids in the UK peaked at just over 1,500 during the 1980s, the introduction of triple therapies helped reduce this to approximately 300 a year by the 1990s.

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See also:

08 Jul 99 | Aids
Aids drugs factfile
02 Jul 99 | Aids
What is Aids?
08 Mar 01 | Health
Aids vaccine shows promise
22 Sep 00 | Health
Aids compounds malaria problem
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