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Researchers Working to Develop Treatments for Patients Initially Infected With Drug-Resistant HIV Strains

February 23, 2005

Researchers are developing treatments for HIV/AIDS patients initially infected with drug-resistant strains of HIV because such cases often are "harder to treat" than cases in which the virus mutates and becomes resistant over time in response to antiretroviral treatment, the Wall Street Journal reports. Dr. Douglas Richman, professor of medicine at the University of California-San Diego, at the 12th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Boston on Tuesday said that the majority of patients with drug resistance that developed in response to antiretroviral treatment often respond to medications following a "pause in treatment," according to the Journal. However, previous studies have shown that people initially infected with drug-resistant HIV strains tend to retain the same resistance even after three or four years of observation, Richman said, the Journal reports. Richman added that these patients also are more likely to transmit HIV to sexual or drug-using partners soon after infection when their viral load rises and they are unaware of their HIV-positive status. "Transmitting resistance through risky behavior that is often anonymous happens far too often," Richman said, adding, "People who are acutely infected and highly infectious are driving this epidemic." According to UCSD researcher Dr. Robert Schooley, researchers must aim for complete suppression of HIV -- usually defined as a viral load of less than 20 to 50 copies per milliliter of blood -- in order to prevent the virus from developing drug resistance. In the United States, about 33% of HIV/AIDS patients receive treatment that leads to such suppression, but of the approximately 67% of remaining patients, 48% have virus that will develop resistance to two classes of drugs and 13% will develop resistance to three drug classes, according to Richman. At the conference, which ends Friday, several pharmaceutical companies are expected to discuss research on new classes of antiretrovirals to fight drug-resistant HIV, the Journal reports (Chase, Wall Street Journal, 2/23).

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