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HIV is becoming less deadly and less infectious

As HIV spreads, it is evolving to become less deadly and much less infectious.

HIV is becoming less deadly and less infectious

A team at the University of Oxford has shown that the virus is becoming “watered down” as it slowly adapts to our immune systems.

According to the scientists, it is taking longer for HIV infection to cause Aids and these changes in the virus may help efforts to contain it.

Some virologists have gone as far to say that the virus may eventually become “almost harmless” as it continues to evolve in humans.

HIV as a virus has been described as a “master of disguise”. It can move rapidly and mutates easily to evade and adapt to the body’s immune system.

But, when it invades the body of someone with a particularly effective immune system, it is challenged.

“The virus is trapped between a rock and hard place, it can get flattened or make a change to survive and if it has to change then it will come with a cost,” said Professor Philip Goulder, from the University of Oxford.

This weakens the virus and reduces its ability to replicate, making it less infectious and taking longer to cause the onset of Aids.

The weakened strain of the virus when spread to others helps this cycle of “watering-down” HIV.

Researchers pointed to examples in African populations, comparing Botswana, which has had a HIV problem for a long time, with  South Africa, where HIV arrived a decade later.

“It is quite striking. You can see the ability to replicate is 10% lower in Botswana than South Africa and that’s quite exciting,” Professor Gould said.

“We are observing evolution happening in front of us and it is surprising how quickly the process is happening.

“The virus is slowing down in its ability to cause disease and that will help contribute to elimination.”

The study’s findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also suggests that anti-retroviral drugs where helping in this “watering-down” of HIV into milder forms.

However, the team did caution that even watered-down HIV was still dangerous and could cause Aids.

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