Just As I Thought

HIV is older than you think

Researchers have discovered that HIV appears to have been infecting humans in west Africa as far back as 1940, and spread as the result of war. From Reuters:

By analyzing HIV-2 samples taken from people, and comparing them to SIV samples taken from sooty mangabeys and other primates that acquired SIV from sooty mangabeys, the researchers estimate that the two subtypes of HIV-2 that became epidemics first infected humans around 1940 and 1945, according to a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Study author Dr. Anne-Mieke Vandamme of Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium told Reuters Health that HIV-2 may have crossed from sooty mangabeys to humans as a result of bushmeat slaughtering or hunting, the same process that may have enabled HIV-1 to infect humans.

The researchers also discovered evidence suggesting that the West African country Guinea-Bissau, the presumed site of origin of HIV-2, experienced a significant increase in new HIV-2 infections between 1955 and 1970.

And that epidemic continues today, Vandamme noted.

… This African region experienced a war of independence against the Portuguese between 1963 and 1974. The fact that the dramatic spread of HIV-2 in the region coincided with this event suggests that war may have encouraged an increase in infections in the region, according to Vandamme and colleagues.

War may have spawned an HIV-2 epidemic in this region by increasing the number of people who received unsterile injections in hospitals, the authors suggest. Moreover, reports from the region note that army-trained doctors started campaigns to inoculate residents of Guinea-Bissau.

Indeed, the first reported cases of HIV-2 in Europe occurred in Portuguese soldiers returned from the independence war, the authors note.

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