Saturday, September 22, 2007

HIV: Still Winning.

HIV is still a new phenomenon to me – I grew up in a world without it. I worked as a Med Tech for a couple of years in a world without it, too. That meant I sat in the lab each day uncapping hundreds of Vacutainers of fresh blood. Each cap came off with a pop and a spray of fine bloody mist, and then I put the blood sample through the Coulter Counter. No gloves, no mask. If I remember my figures correctly, about 25% of health care professionals had been exposed to Hepatitis B in those days. I'm not surprised.
HIV had already been recognized in 1981, but it wasn't until 1984 that I started to take precautions in the lab. More fool me; don't take the above as some sort of medical advice.

Since 1981, HIV has killed 25 million people. For the first 15 years of this horrible epidemic, it was actually common to see your friends (and some celebrities) die. With the advent of anti-retroviral drugs, English and American people saw fewer of their co-workers and acquaintances waste away and pass; but HIV itself continues to kill by the millions in places where we don't see it (or don't choose to look). According to UNAIDS figures quoted by Wikipedia, about three million people died of AIDS in 2005.

Why bring it up now? Because another vaccine trial against HIV has failed.

From AP:
Merck & Co. said Friday that it is ending enrollment and vaccination of volunteers in the study, which was partly funded by the National Institutes of Health.It was a high-profile failure in the daunting quest to develop a vaccine to prevent AIDS. Merck's vaccine was the farthest along and was closely watched by experts in the field.Officials at the company, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., said 24 of 741 volunteers who got the vaccine in one segment of the experiment later became infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In a comparison group of volunteers who got dummy shots, 21 of 762 participants also became infected."It's very disappointing news," said Keith Gottesdiener, head of Merck's clinical infectious disease and vaccine research group. "A major effort to develop a vaccine for HIV really did not deliver on the promise."

(You have to love "dummy shots" instead of "placebo". Possibly America will languish from increasing inability to read English before HIV has any effect on the economy, but hey, one threat at a time here, folks.)

The approach had been to try to stimulate T-Cells into a response by putting artificial copies of the three major HIV genes into a common cold virus and injecting that. No dice. Other studies will no doubt follow.

One question that jumps to my mind is: If 'they' do develop an HIV vaccine, will they – the other they – allow women to have it?

The answer, based on a look at the controversy over the HPV vaccine, appears to be no. Who cares if girls die of sexually transmitted diseases, the worthless sluts. This little meme has now spread from America, home of stupid attitudes to sex, to Canada:
Trustees in the region west of Toronto will debate Tuesday night whether to ban Halton's public health unit from offering or administering the vaccine in Catholic schools.The ban could also prevent the health unit from counselling or giving advice on the vaccine to any student on board property.A recent letter from the conference of bishops encourages Catholic boards to remember that the virus is sexually transmitted, and that sex is "appropriate only" through marriage.
By the way, there is now a very effective vaccine for Hepatitis B. Healthcare professionals don't get it any more. And anyway, we wear gloves. Hepatitis C, now, that's a different matter.

NIH Page on HIV

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