A breakthrough in AIDS research

Researchers are hailing this new discovery as a major breakthrough in AIDS prevention.

A new study shows HIV positive patients who take anti-AIDS drugs reduce the chance of spreading the disease to a partner by 96 percent.

“These results are phenomenal,” said Thomas J. Coates, director of the global health program at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the founder of the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies in San Francisco.

The results were so surprising researchers decided to wrap up their study four year before it was set to end.

“I was bowled over,” said Salim Abdool Karim, an AIDS researcher and professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa who wasn’t involved in the study but was briefed on its results. “If we can implement this,” he said, “we have a real chance to turn the tide on the HIV epidemic.”

Couples from nine different countries participated in this trial, with a total number of 1,763 couples.  In each case, just one person in the relationship was HIV positive.  Half of the patients were randomly selected to take antiretroviral drugs, while others waited until the disease progressed.  During the course of the trial, 28 partners became infected with HIV; all but one of those new cases came from the group that started taking medication later.  Those taking the medications were 96.3 percent less likely to pass on the virus to their partner.

While researchers stress a cure still needs to be found, they do believe this study will change the way AIDS patients are treated.  With more proof that early intervention is the key doctors are likely to encourage medications sooner.

The $73 million study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

AIDS statistics

*At the end of 2009, 33 million people were living with HIV/AIDS.

*With around 68 percent of all people living with HIV residing in sub-Saharan Africa, the region carries the greatest burden of the epidemic.

*The annual number of new HIV infections has steadily declined and due to the significant increase in people receiving medication, the number of AIDS-related deaths has also declined.

*Stats according to AVERT HIV and AIDs, an international AIDS charity.

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