AIDS virus resistant to drugs poses greater threat

World AIDS Day to be marked Monday with free testing.

AIDS ribbon 88 (photo credit: )
AIDS ribbon 88
(photo credit: )
Homosexuals who blithely fail to follow "safe sex" practices should beware. Their share among the total number of new HIV carriers has doubled since 2005 to 116 people or 30 percent of all new cases in the country. Now a US study shows that a tenth of new carriers are infected with an AIDS virus strain that is resistant to existing protease-inhibitor drugs, which when effective can turn HIV carriers into patients with a chronic disease rather than an acute fatal one. Dr. Dan Turner, head of the AIDS center at Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv, said Thursday that "the erosion in efficacy of anti-AIDS drugs should remind us all that the disease was and still is irreversible." Turner was speaking in advance of World AIDS Day, which will be marked on Monday, December 1. He added that other studies, from Europe, had shown that 20% of all carriers who had not even started drug therapy for HIV were already resistant to the protease inhibitors. At Turner's center, one in 10 carriers who have not started therapy have the resistant strain. If the drugs are not effective, patients are much more likely to advance more speedily from carrier status to having full-blown AIDS. In the last four years, the number of HIV carriers being treated at the hospital in Tel Aviv - where there are relatively large numbers of carriers among the immigrant, foreign worker and migrant population - has risen by 50%. Some 750 carriers are being treated there now compared to 350 in 2004. Only at Sourasky, an average of two or three new carriers are diagnosed each week; a similar rise has been noted at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, bringing estimates of carriers and AIDS patients currently being treated in the two hospitals to 1,000. Three quarters of the carriers are men, and the most common ages are between 30 and 39 (40%), followed by those in their 20s (almost 20%). Almost a third of the carriers are addicts who inject themselves with drugs. Many of them drink alcohol and are not sober enough to know to use a condom for sex. Nine percent are foreign workers, and the rest were heterosexuals or homosexuals infected during unprotected random sex. Turner explained that one of the reason homosexuals have lowered their guard against the HIV danger is that they mistakenly believe that if they are infected, they can be saved by the protease-inhibitor cocktail, which is provided free in the basket of health services and costs the state and the health funds about NIS 40,000 per patient per year. "Even though [newer versions of] the cocktail cause fewer side effects than before, we expect to see significant side effects in the longer term." The Sourasky AIDS center will offer free tests on Monday between 9 a.m. and noon in the hospital lobby. On Thursday, December 4, Turner's staff will go to the Beta Pizza restaurant in the Lillienblum/Rehov Herzl entertainment area to test people for HIV, hand out information materials and raise awareness of the disease, especially among the young.