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Startling results halt HIV vaccine study

Jenny Decker RN's picture

Startling results from a new HIV vaccine study for Merck has halted the study in its tracks.

The study of the vaccine developed by Merck was recently halted after it was discovered that instead of decreasing HIV infections it increased the susceptibility to infections. The study included both circumcised and uncircumcised men. In 2006 and 2007, UNAIDS found that in circumcised men, transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus from women to men was decreased by half. This new study showed some similar results in that the vaccine was not causing the increased HIV infections in circumcised men.

It was during the same year that this was announced about the circumcision that Merck had an HIV vaccine in clinical trials. These clinical trials failed. But there is still hope. Researchers from all over the world have found that there are more than a dozen antibodies that do target the specific HIV virus and this knowledge may someday lead to an effective vaccine.

The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, was recognized in the year 1981, but the history of the spread of the virus goes way to the around 1884 to around 1924 when a hunter killed a chimpanzee in what is now modern day Kinshasa in West Central Africa. Somehow, the blood of the chimpanzee got mixed with the blood of the hunter and then he contracted HIV. This virus was not harmful in anyway to the chimpanzee, but to humankind it is lethal. The infection began to spread and people began to die, but the deaths were never attributed to this new infection. It was not until 1982 that the CDC began to realize that the virus was spread through the blood.

At this early point in AIDS history, hysteria was running rampant. Ryan White was barred from school because he was infected. There were reports of landlords who evicted AIDS patients. Local swimming pools would not let those infected with HIV to enter the pools and people were afraid to come into any type of contact with people who had AIDS.

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As time went on and education of the public about the virus continued, scientists found that HIV replicated within the blood of the body at alarming rates and the goal of treatment became not cure, but to keeping HIV levels low. Soon after that the treatment known as HAART became prevalent, but it later proved to have some significant side effects that were difficult for patients with HIV to tolerate. Vaccines have been developed and proceeded to clinical trials with little effect. However, other treatments have become so much improved that it has increased lifespan of the person with HIV from just a few years to several decades.

The CDC recommends that the public not be complacent about HIV and AIDS. It is still very much alive and growing in numbers and severity at times. From statistics gathered in 2007, the CDC estimates that 56,000 people in the US has HIV and AIDS, with nearly 15,000 people dying from it each year.

The human immunodeficiency virus is the precursor to AIDS. Once infected with HIV, the virus replicates rapidly in the blood, destroying the immune system. Once the immune system is severely damaged, than AIDS becomes full blown. AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. The person then develops what are known as opportunistic infections such as Kaposi’s Sarcoma. This is a skin cancer that is not seen in people with intact immune systems. Tuberculosis is also an infection that the person with AIDS is particularly susceptible to.

Those with HIV should be seeing a health care provider on a regular basis who is experienced with treating HIV infection. The new medications that are available can help distant a person from full blown AIDS by decades. The medications help limit or slow the destruction that HIV has on an immune system and helps improve the health of those with HIV. However, it is important that people with HIV take these medications for the rest of their lives.

Left untreated, early HIV can be associated with cardiovascular disease, liver disease, kidney disease, and cancer. Support services are available for HIV infected people. They help cope with the devastating realities of diagnosis, help to decrease risky behavior, and they are able to help a person find needed services they may not be aware of.

Until a vaccine is found, which researchers are working hard on, those with HIV must continue to take their regimen of medications that are now available to them through increased knowledge and advanced technology.

Picture from Wikipedia