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Study: 100% Cure Rate for Hepatitis C in People with HIV

Sunday April 13, 2014

nullAs further evidence that Sovaldi (sofusbuvir) is a real game changer in treating hepatitis C (HCV) infection, early research from the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has demonstrated that the combination of Sovaldi and the experimental HCV drug ledipasvir has resulted in a 100% cure rate in patients co-infected with HIV and HCV genotype 1.

Traditionally, people coinfected with HIV have not responded as well to interferon-based HCV therapies, so it has been considered vital to develop interferon-free therapies for this and other hard-to-treat groups.

The NIAID study was comprised of 50 HIV-positive individual, most of whom were in infected with HCV genotype 1a (considered one of the more difficult HCV types to treat). Participants were either on antiretroviral therapy (ART) or untreated with stable CD4 counts and low HIV viral loads. While 25% had advanced liver fibrosis, none had cirrhosis.

All participants were treated with Sovaldi/ledipasvir for a period of 12 weeks. By week four, 100% of both the treated and untreated group reached an undetectable HCV load, with continuing undetectable levels four weeks after termination of therapy (the definition of an HCV "cure").
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50% of Americans Suspect That HIV Is a Conspiracy

Sunday April 13, 2014

nullAt a time when many are a proclaiming that we, as a society, are overcoming the stigma and social barriers related to HIV, a new study from the University of Chicago suggests that we may still have some way to go.

According to the research published in the March 17th issue of Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine, 49% of 1,351 Americans surveyed suspect that HIV was an intentional act of conspiracy linked to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The study, which looked at medical conspiracy theories relating to HIV and other diseases, was part of an online survey conducted from August to September 2013.

The selection of participants was weighed to best represent the U.S. population by age, ethnic group, income and gender, while the results were correlated to determine how and if any of the beliefs affected a person's health behavior.

Among the findings:

  • 49% either strongly believe or question whether the CIA deliberately infected a large number of African Americans under the guise of hepatitis vaccinations.

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Soaring HIV Prevalence Paints a Dire Picture for South Africa

Sunday April 6, 2014

nullThere has inarguably been no bigger turnaround in HIV public health policy than in South Africa, which emerged from the rampant AIDS denialism of former-President Thabo Mbeki to become what is today the world's largest and most ambitious public antiretroviral (ARV) initiative.

So profound has this turnaround been that the perception among some is that the South African HIV epidemic is largely under control or that we, as an international community, are somehow approaching the proverbial "end of the tunnel." And why shouldn't anyone believe this, given that many -- including Luis Loures of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) -- are now predicting that the end of the epidemic in nigh?

To be fair, many of the statistics support the argument. Since the start of the ARV roll-out in 2003, South Africa has made some incredible inroads, with the latest CDC data indicating an overall 25% drop in new infections and a 50% reduction in child HIV infections (the latter of which is largely due to highly effective mother-to-child interventions).

But that paints only a part of the picture. The fact is that, here in South Africa, the country remains at a critical crossroads, with not only the largest HIV population in the world (6.4 million), but massive obstacles yet to overcome.

Chief among these are the rising HIV prevalence rate which, according to the country's Human Science Research Council (HSRC), has increased from 10.6% in 2008 to 12.2% in 2012. While this figure is, in part, due to the increased longevity of those living with HIV, underlying it is the astonishing number of new infections each year. In 2012 alone, the HSRC reported 470,000 new diagnoses -- or nearly 1,100 new infections every day. That's 100,000 more than was seen just one year earlier in 2011.
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Ugandan Police Raid AIDS Clinic for "Training Homosexuals"

Sunday April 6, 2014

nullEarlier in March, we explored the impact of the Uganda's Anti-Homosexual Act of 2014, suggesting that the widening of the government's anti-gay laws was directly linked to the rise of HIV infections within the country. It seemed a fair assumption, given that Uganda is today the only country in all of Central and East Africa to see a rise in infections, with Health Cabinet Minister James Macharia reporting that many of the clinics servicing gay men and other at-risk populations have been closed.

Just this Friday, the Associated Press (AP) reported that Ugandan police raided the U.S.-funded Makerere University Walter Reed Project (MUWRP) building in the capital of Kampala. The facility, which provides antiretroviral therapy (ART) to gay men, among others, was targeted for "training youths in homosexuality" -- this according to Ofwono Opondo (pictured), the deputized head of the government's Uganda Media Centre.
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Study Failure Sets Back HIV "Cure" Hopes

Tuesday April 1, 2014

nullWe've reported recently on efforts to activate so-called "latent HIV reservoirs," considered essential to what many had hoped would be an eventual cure. By providing shelter to latent forms of HIV, these cellular reservoirs enable the virus to quietly replicate along with the host cell, shielded from immune detection.

It has long been postulated that by activating these reservoirs, the viruses would be forced out into the open to where they could be eradicated with currently available antiretroviral drugs and other techniques. Without the ability to do so, many believe that an eradicating cure (as opposed to a functional cure) cannot be achieved.

In recent years, a class of drugs called HDAC inhibitors have shown much promise in achieving activation, including one Danish study which appeared so positive as to elicit claims that a cure would be seen "within months."

A new study from John Hopkins University has largely dashed those hopes.
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1 in 7 Americans Believe That HIV Is "God's Punishment"

Monday March 24, 2014

nullWe have to admit that it gives us a moment's pause whenever we hear someone dismiss HIV stigma as being a thing of the past, suggesting that we, as a society, have somehow moved beyond the judgments or derision regularly directed at people living with HIV.

Admittedly, in many regards, things have improved. The near-hysterical fear and "blame game" associated with the disease back in the 1980s and 90s have diminished significantly with the increased public awareness about HIV. At the same time, efforts to provide HIV legal protections have improved vastly in recent years (including the ending of U.S. ban on HIV-positive immigration in 2011 and the extension of the Americans with Disabilities Act to people with HIV).

But does this necessarily mean that attitudes have changed, or that those infected with the disease no longer have anything to fear but fear itself?

A new survey published by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) suggests that we still have a long way to go in dismantling the stigmas related to HIV, particularly in some key church-going populations.
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A Topical Gel That Can Prevent HIV After Sex?

Monday March 24, 2014

nullWhile the research is still early, a recent study conducted by investigators at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) demonstrates a possible, new approach to preventing HIV in women after sexual exposure.

In the March 12 issue of Science Translational Medicine, the CDC team led by Dr. Walid Heneine showed a single application of vaginal microcidal gel was able to prevent infection in five of six macaque monkeys exposed to a virulent strain of SHIV (a combined form of HIV and simian HIV). The 1% ratelgravir gel was applied vaginally three hours after sexual exposure and demonstrated rapid action in significantly reducing the vaginal viral load.
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Rare Case of Woman-to-Woman HIV Transmission Reported

Monday March 17, 2014

nullOn Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that a 46-year-old Texas woman had "likely acquired" HIV through sex with her 43-year-old, HIV-positive female partner. Genetic testing of the woman's virus showed a 98% match to that of her partner, while a number of risk factors that could have contributed to infection (e.g., injecting drug use, multiple partners) have been largely excluded.

If further investigation supports these findings, the case will be one the rare instances whereby HIV transmission has been linked directly to sex between two women.

In the aftermath of the report, some in the social media have begun to asked whether we've been underestimating the risk of woman-to-woman HIV infection, and if the rules of HIV prevention have now somehow changed.
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What the HIV Baby "Cure" Tells (and Doesn't Tell) Us

Tuesday March 11, 2014

nullBy now, many people will have read about the second case of an HIV baby "cure," wherein an HIV-infected baby born in Los Angeles was reportedly cleared of the virus after receiving three-drug combination antiretroviral therapy (cART). This latest case appears, at least on the surface, to replicate a similar event last year in which a Mississippi baby given cART within 30 hours of birth and now appears virus-free without the use of HIV medications.

Within hours of the news brief at last week's Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Boston, many in the media were quick to suggest that the latest case proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that cART at the time of birth can "functionally cure" HIV-infected babies.

But is this necessarily what the study tells us, or are we perhaps jumping the gun a bit?
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First Look: HBO's 'The Normal Heart' Trailer

Tuesday March 11, 2014

nullThe Normal Heart, adapted from the Tony Award-winning play by Larry Kramer, is scheduled to air on HBO on May 25. The film, which recounts the rise of the AIDS crisis between 1981 an 1984, stars Academy Award nominee Mark Ruffalo and Taylor Kitsch (pictured). As told by Kramer, the co-founder of the Gay Men's Health Crisis and the AIDS activist group ACT-UP, The Normal Heart will likely be a more rounded and searingly honest account of the crisis than was seen in the recent Dallas Buyer's Club.

See the latest film trailer here.

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