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Tuesday, 18 December, 2001, 20:38 GMT
HIV 'develops resistance to drugs'
Aids activists in South Africa rejoice at court decision to make drugs available, AP
Campaigners have fought to make the drugs available
By BBC's science correspondent Richard Black

HIV, the virus which causes Aids, is fast becoming resistant to the drugs used to treat it, according to research presented at a major medical conference in Chicago on Tuesday.

Scientists have discovered that more than three-quarters of HIV-positive people in the United States carry versions of the virus which are resistant to commonly-used drugs.

The researchers examined viruses taken from about 1,500 HIV-positive people across the United States.

They found that 78% of them carried HIV which has become resistant to at least one anti-retroviral drug, while more than half had a virus that was resistant to more than one.

South African mother and child after court decision on Aids drugs, AFP
Bleak findings will worry many who thought anti-retrovirals were the key to a better life
Most people carrying HIV in the United States take a cocktail of three drugs to keep the virus under control.

When the virus within an individual evolves resistance to all three, the result is a complete breakdown of the immune system - the syndrome of Aids.

New drugs needed

The new figures from the United States are not in themselves surprising.

Research in other parts of the world has produced similar findings.

But this is a much bigger study than those performed previously, and big studies produce reliable data.

Experts say the findings have two major implications for treatment and research.

Firstly, they demonstrate the need for new classes of drugs to tackle the virus in new ways - and, as other researchers have been telling the same medical conference, a new type called fusion inhibitors could be available within a year.

Secondly, the study reinforces the importance of safe sex, and safe use of needles by intravenous drug users.

The more people who carry drug-resistant strains of HIV, the more likely it is that anyone being newly infected will pick up a drug-resistant strain, reducing their chances of successful treatment.

See also:

27 Apr 01 | Africa
Annan's 'Marshall Plan' for Aids
23 Jan 01 | Business
Africa's Millennium plan
05 Dec 00 | Africa
Pan-African Aids initiative
09 Sep 00 | Americas
UN sets ambitious goals for 2015
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