Tuesday, December 1, 2009

World AIDS Day 2009

The AIDS Memorial Quilt was established in 1987 as a telling symbol of the way HIV and AIDS effects people - it is one disease that manifests itself differently in each person. Similarly, the quilt squares all teach, memorialize, or reflect the social ramifications of a virus that has embedded itself in the world's psyche and too many of its citizens.

According to the UNAIDS report released last week, 33.4 million people are living with HIV, and in 2008 alone, 2.7 million new infections were reported while 2 million people died of AIDS worldwide. However, there is hope. New HIV infections have been reduced worldwide by 17% over the past eight years.

HIV is unique as a disease because it is a retrovirus. Not retro like bell bottom jeans and disco music, but certainly backwards. For an initial infection, instead of the DNA coding for the RNA (which tells the proteins to be lethal to cells) like a normal virus; HIV uses a reverse process where the RNA tells the DNA what to do, and the DNA then creates the codes for the deadly proteins. If that sounds confusing, this more thorough explanation should help.

HIV was only the second known retrovirus at the time of its discovery, so we can thank quick thinking researchers for the origination of anti-retroviral drugs. The development of anti-retrovirals has made HIV a much more manageable disease.

Research has certainly made HIV much less of a death sentence to those who have access to anti-viral therapies, but it still is not a cure, and millions of people die each year from HIV/AIDS. While HIV prevention programs have made an impact on reducing the number of people infected, there is a need for a preventative treatment.

Current research is focusing on the development of a vaccine against HIV. There have been many challenges to finding a safe vaccine because of the nature of HIV.

HIV appears to be a master of change. Currently, there are many known strains of the virus, and possibly other unknown strains. This variability makes it difficult to develop a vaccine that will target all of these subcategories of the virus.

Development of vaccines is a timely process. From the first polio epidemic, it was 61 years until a vaccine was developed. It was 19 years from the first case of Hepatitis A to the implementation of a vaccine. So for researchers to report some promising data suggesting that they might have discovered a viable AIDS vaccine in just over 2 decades is amazingly fast for such a complex disease.

Researchers are cautiously optimistic, as there have been previous trials of other vaccines that showed promise, only to fail with more testing. However, regardless of if this newest vaccine fails or succeeds, researchers will have more information to use in developing therapies to combat this virus.

This World AIDS Day, we remember those who've been lost to this disease and look forward to a future post where we can definitively say that HIV/AIDS is no more.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    1 in 4 sexually active teenagers become infected with an STD every year, in the United States alone. Now, more than ever, we need to join together to fight this growing issue. As I read through your website, it is clear that you share the same passion for STD/STI awareness. We here, at Disease.com, understand the importance of STD/STI prevention and treatments. If you could, please list us as a resource or host our social book mark button, it would be much appreciated. We can not reach every teenager, but together we can try.
    If you need more information please email me with the sublect line as your URL.

    Thank you,
    Sharon Vegoe