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Crack Is Still Wack — Especially if You are HIV-Positive

Crack Is Still Wack — Especially if You are HIV-Positive


When it comes to HIV, cocaine’s a double whammy.

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, say that cocaine use’s role in HIV transmission isn’t just that it leads to risky behavior, but that it makes your body more vulnerable to HIV infection.

Scientists at the UCLA AIDS Institute and Center for AIDS Research base that claim on their new study, published recently in the journal Scientific Reports, that indicates cocaine disrupts the immune system. They used mice that had been transplanted with human cells so as to have the equivalent of a human immune system. They injected half of the mice with cocaine for five days and half with a saline solution. Then half of the mice in each group were injected with HIV, and all were given cocaine or saline for two more weeks.

They found that the mice that had received cocaine had higher levels of HIV in blood and tissue samples than did those that had received saline. Also, disease-fighting CD4 and CD8 T cells were less active in the mice that had been given cocaine.

“This points to cocaine blunting the potency of our body’s defense against the virus,” said Dimitrios Vatakis, the study’s senior author and an assistant professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

The study, Vatakis said, builds on a previous one that suggested cocaine increases the number of CD4 T cells that are vulnerable to HIV. That study was done on cell cultures in the lab, not on living organisms like the latest study.

Because the latest study was done on a limited number of subjects and involved brief, intense cocaine exposure, more research is needed, Vatakis said. Further studies, also in “humanized” mice, will involve how cocaine affects vaginal and anal tissues, viral latency, and pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis.

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