Is HIV Drug Resistance Becoming the New Normal?

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A new report released by the World Health Organization says nearly six out of 11 countries reported that over 10 percent of people who were newly diagnosed with HIV have a strain that’s resistant to modern drugs. Countries over 10 percent were Argentina, Guatemala, Namibia, Nicaragua, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. 

First of all: What is Drug Resistance?

"Drug resistance occurs when a disease develops a defense to the mode of attack that a medication is using to fight it. Imagine if you arm yourself with a gun to protect your home, and then burglars buy bulletproof vests. That’s resistance," as pointed out by Plus senior editor Jacob Anderson-Minshall. 

“All organisms are constantly evolving to deal with the stressors in their environment, but whereas humans may appear unchanged over generations, organisms like viruses can change at a disturbingly rapid pace,” Anderson-Minshall explains. “Each HIV particle is actually short-lived, surviving only a couple of days. Unfortunately, the virus is very prolific during those 48 hours, and—after hijacking your T-cells, uses them to create billions of copies of itself in a given day. Because it’s reproducing so quickly, there’s a high probability of errors being made and then those errors being replicated. In fact, scientists believe in every reproduction cycle HIV makes at least one mistake.” 

Read more about drug resistance HERE

According to findings published in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases, a high number of people with HIV are showing resistance to both newer and older drugs. In fact, a 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report says that two out of every 10 new cases of HIV involve strains with at least partial resistance to one or more antiretroviral medication. 

Drug resistance has been a rising problem across the world, and is often associated with the common use of antibiotics. It is known that bacteria in our bodies have strengthened to become what we call “superbugs,” and while antibiotics are meant to suppress a regular bacteria, too much of them can create a resistance. 

HIV strains that are resistance to drugs happen when change occurs within the genetic structure of HIV itself. While HIV mutations are common, some mutations strengthen the defense of HIV, giving it an advantage over one’s immune system as well as medications. 

Last May, a small biotech startup company called Aldatu Biosciences, with only five full-time employees, received a $3 million grant from National Institutes of Health to continue development of a test for HIV drug resistance. The company says the test will be able to detect mutations in the HIV genome that are associated with drug resistance.

"We need to ensure that people who start treatment can stay on effective treatment, to prevent the emergence of HIV drug resistance," Dr. Gottfried Hirnschall, director of WHO’s HIV Department and Global Hepatitis Program, said in statement. “When levels of HIV drug resistance become high we recommend that countries shift to an alternative first-line therapy for those who are starting treatment.”

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