Examining Reaction To Study Tracking HIV's Arrival In US From Haiti

Armen Hareyan's picture

The Washington Post onMonday examined reaction to a recent study that found that HIV likelyarrived in the U.S. from Haiti about a decade earlier than previouslybelieved (Stein, Washington Post, 11/5). The study, published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, foundthat the most widespread HIV subtype outside Africa likely emerged inHaiti in the 1960s and arrived in the U.S. a few years later.

For the study, Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona,and colleagues analyzed five blood samples collected in 1982 and 1983from Haitian HIV/AIDS patients in Miami that had been frozen and storedby CDC. In addition,the researches examined genetic data from 117 early HIV/AIDS patientsworldwide. The researchers examined two viral genes and compared theirsequences with viruses found worldwide, using HIV samples from CentralAfrica considered to be some of the earliest forms of HIV as abaseline. The researchers then constructed a timeline of HIVdevelopment by measuring how much the genes in recent blood samplesdiffered from early samples.


According to the study, samplesfrom Haitians were genetically the most similar to the African virus,indicating the Haitian viruses were among the earliest to branch off.The researchers found a 99.7% certainty that HIV subtype B originatedin Haiti, Worobey said. The mutation timeline of the virus presented inthe study places the virus in the U.S. about 12 years before thedisease was recognized by scientists in 1981 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/31).


According to the Post,the study's "new insights" into the genetic variability of HIV couldassist in the "long-frustrated" efforts to develop an effective vaccinefor the virus. "What this might tell us is how the virus might evolvemolecularly," Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases,said, adding, "That might have an impact on the virus that you put inyour vaccines. So this not only has historical value but practicalimplications for vaccine design."

The findings also have"raised concern" in the U.S. Haitian community that the results couldfuel discrimination against Haitians, the Post reports.Worobey warned against blaming specific populations, adding, "The ideaof blaming groups afflicted by AIDS should be something for the past."Worobey also said that it was not surprising that HIV arrived in theU.S. much earlier than previously thought, noting that it takes about adecade after infection for most people to show symptoms, which wouldhave allowed the virus to spread before health officials detected it (Washington Post, 11/5).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view theentire Kaiser DailyHIV/AIDS Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report ispublished for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser FamilyFoundation.